Report: EU timber trade funded armed groups in the CAR

A fighter from the Seleka coalition of rebel milita factions. [Reuters]

The European and Chinese timber trade with the Central African Republic has funded armed groups on both sides of a conflict simmering there since 2013, the anti-corruption group Global Witness said today (15 July).

A Global Witness report estimated the logging industry paid nearly €3.4 million ($3.74 million) in 2013 in security and checkpoint payments to the mostly northern Muslim Seleka rebels who seized control of the southern capital Bangui that year.

It also paid some €3.7 million in state taxes in 2013. In 2014, the report added, logging companies paid an estimated €127,864 to Christian anti-balaka militia groups.

“The employment and development benefits of the timber industry have long been exaggerated by the donor community and are far outweighed by the sector’s abuses and costs in CAR,” said the report by Global Witness, which has offices in London and Washington.

The Seleka rebels forced then-President Francois Bozize to flee to Cameroon when they seized Bangui.

A transitional government has been in place since early last year and presidential elections are due in October, though around a tenth of the 4.5 million population remains outside the country as refugees.

Central African Republic was a major exporter of diamonds until May 2013, when the Kimberly Process banned shipment of its rough diamonds and timber supplanted gemstones as the country’s top export.

Germany, France and China were the main buyers of timber from Central African Republic, the report said.

“Diamonds and timber are not able to be exploited in a sustainable way that will support peace,” said Alexandra Pardal, Global Witness campaign leader.

“People are losing out in this country, even though it’s one of the most resource-rich places on earth.”

At least 5,000 people have been killed and nearly a million displaced since the conflict began.

In a statement on Tuesday, the United Nations refugee agency voiced concern at the interim government’s decision to exclude some 460,000 Central African refugees – an estimated 40% of whom would be eligible to vote – from October’s vote.

It remains unsafe for the overwhelmingly Muslim refugees to return to CAR, UNHCR said.

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