DRC arrests 14 Chinese for wood smuggling

Lubumbashi - Fourteen Chinese people suspected of illegally exporting red wood from the Democratic Republic of Congo were arrested on Thursday, local officials said.

"We have arrested Chinese people... who were cutting wood in our region," Celestin Pande, acting governor of the Haut-Katanga region, told AFP.

Pande said 17 000 tons of red wood had been illegally exported to China through Zambia over four months.

"We have arrested 14 Chinese nationals with (tourist) visas, who were involved in cutting and illegally exporting red wood," an immigration official in Haut-Katanga added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Since the beginning of the year, a crisis linked to exotic wood exports has poisoned relations between DRC and neighbouring Zambia.

Zambia has seized several hundred vehicles transporting padauk, a dense wood used in construction and woodworking, from DRC as part of investigations into exports to China.

Kinshasa has denounced the seizure, but on Thursday a delegation from the capital decided to ban the logging and exportation of red wood from Haut-Katanga.

Haut-Katanga's forests have been devastated by illegal logging, with wood mostly used for charcoal, the main source of energy for an electricity-deprived population.

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