Greenpeace activists this morning delivered around 2 tonnes of railway sleepers made of African timber to the Ministry of Italian Infrastructures in Rome. The sleepers, which were made of Azobe timber, blocked access to the carpark of the Ministry and were guarded by activists wearing animal masks that represent animals threatened by ancient forest destruction around the world. In the banner were the text "PROTEGGIAMO LE FORESTE' ' (Protect the Ancient Forests) and 'FOREST CRIME and demanded that Minister Pietro Lunardi return the sleepers to Africa.

During the action, Greenpeace delivered a report to Minister Lunardi that documented links between the Italian Railway Company, FS, and the lumber company Tecnoalp srl, which is known to buy timber from Dutch-controlled company OTC (Oriental Timber Company).

According to the UN Security Council's Panel of Experts, OTC is directly involved in the traffic of arms with the armed factions in Sierra Leone. The report also notes that roads built and maintained for timber exploitation are used for the transfer of weapons to Sierra Leone. The trucks used for the transportation of timber are also used to transport arms. Roads built by the OTC for their forestry operations have been used to transport weapons to the rebels in Sierra Leone .

Azobe, (Lophira alata), from which the sleepers were made, is an African timber species listed as 'vulnerable' by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). It is one of many timber species worldwide whose survival is threatened by overexploitation by logging companies, and is one of the species which OTC is known to export from Liberia.

Like many timber species, Azob_© comes from the destruction of ancient forests said Greenpeace campaigner Sergio Baffoni. And in the case of OTC, it's trade is also linked to arms trafficking to Sierra Leone. Over the same period that links between the timber sector and arms trafficking from Liberia have increased, Italy has increased its imports from this country by 25 times.

Liberia is now the second largest exporter of timber to Italy with 48,100 m3 of logs between January and June 2000, and these imports are still increasing in 2001It is the only country within the West African region that has considerable forest cover. The majority of West African nations (Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria) have destroyed their extensive rainforests which once extended from the coast to the interior of their countries. Liberia 's forests measured some 4.5 million hectares in 1995.

These extensive tropical forests are home to species in need of protection either because they are in danger of extinction or because they are endemic to that particular area.In the forests of Liberia you can find exceptionally rare zoological specimens such as the Liberian Mongoose (Liberictis kuhnii) and the endemic Pygmy Hippopotamus (Cherosis liberensisis) said Baffoni.
The Greenpeace report highlights that the very fact that a Public Limited Company, such as Trenitalia could be buying products originating from OTC - a company which directly is directly involved in illegal arms trade - and the fact that it is buying any timber coming from ancient forest destruction, shows that urgent action is required by both the Italian Government and Italian companies, to adopt a clear timber purchasing policy. Greenpeace urges the Italian Government to make a firm commitment which guarantees that all Public offices, Public administrations and Public building contracts use wood products which do not originate from ancient forests, unless certified at least to the standards required by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council).

This is only the tip of the iceberg said Baffoni. The magnificent ancient forests worldwide face the threat of destruction, largely due to the actions of logging companies which are out of control. In North America and South America, and throughout Africa, Europe and Asia, the situation is the same. Forests continue to be cleared and degraded at an alarming rate, and forest products companies are not held accountable for illegal and destructive practices - including arms trading.

In the light of their evidence, Greenpeace is calling on Governments worldwide to:

o Stop their role in ancient forest destruction, by stopping any further industrial activities in intact ancient forests until ecologically responsible plans for forest conservation and sustainable use have been agreed
o Clean up the timber trade, by ensuring that timber is produced and traded in a legal and ecologically responsible way
o Come up with the money, by providing at least US$15 billion each year to pay for forest conservation and sustainable development

Today's action is part of a global Greenpeace campaign to save the last ancient forests. In the next week in Montreal, Canada Governments from around the world will be meeting to prepare for the Ancient Forest Summit in April next year in The Hague, The Netherlands. Greenpeace urges world Governments to choose to save the ancient forests, and develop an immediate government action plan which includes concrete measures to protect the world's remaining ancient forests.



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