Pagak/Addis Ababa, December 18, 2018 (SSNA) — South Sudanese government soldiers based in Pagak have systematically been cutting down trees, burning, and selling them in the form of charcoal for-profits, Pagak residents familiar with the illegal dealings told the South Sudan News Agency (SSNA) on condition of anonymity on Tuesday.
Residents said some government soldiers and officials have been carrying out illegal logging activities for well over a year and that town residents are fearful to speak out about the issue.
“They started their deforestation business in October 2017. They usually send many of their soldiers to cut down huge trees, burned them, and later sell them in the form of charcoal,” one resident asserted.
“Most of their customers are Ethiopians. These people have caused huge destruction to Pagak’s forest and we need the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) and the government in Juba to punish those who allow this damaging activity to take place,” he explains.
Another resident went further, saying government troops and officials have used Pagak forest as a source of their food.
“We live with them here. I can tell you most of these soldiers do not have enough food. They then resort to cutting down our trees only to end up in black markets. The problem is that they act with impunity, no political or military leader seems to be in control,” she said.
Duop Chak Wuol, the editor-in-chief of the South Sudan News Agency and who hails from Pagak, posted a message on his Facebook page on December 6, blasting the government for what he described as “illegal logging activities” in his hometown. Duop calls on South Sudan’s government to order an immediate end to the deforestation practices and warned of “serious consequences.”
“South Sudan’s government forces and their political leaders must stop deforestation of my hometown, Pagak. For nearly a year, government soldiers have been documented carrying out illegal logging activities in and around Pagak and selling the trees in the form of charcoal,” he wrote, adding “I don’t understand why Salva Kiir and Taban Deng Gai are not feeding their troops properly. Pagak rich forest is not a source of government ration. Even most of the tallest trees in the northeast of Pagak’s airport are gone.”
“A supposedly national army should not engage in illicit deforestation dealings like what is being done in Pagak. This act must stop,” he continued. Duop, a known critic of the government also accused government troops of involving in “illicit trade in wildlife.”
A Brig. General with the armed opposition who asked not to be named in the report because he was not authorized to speak to the media confirmed the claims, stating that government forces have been cutting down trees since mid-2017. He claimed that some of the sacks containing charcoals made from Pagak’s trees can be seen everywhere in Ethiopian shops adjacent to Pagak’s bridge. The SPLA-IO official also disclosed that the armed opposition is aware of the illegal dealings in and around Pagak.