The Royal Forest Department (RFD) will propose the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to shut down all but 25 forest checkpoints throughout the country because most of them are redundant and have never intercepted a single case timber smuggling in the last couple of years.
RFD deputy director-general Athapol Charoenshunsa said Friday (Jan 12) that he had written to Minister Surasak Karnjanarat, proposing that 259 out of a total of 284 forest checkpoints should be closed down, leaving only one in Bangkok and 24 others in provinces.
Besides the checkpoint in Bangkok, the rest 24 are mostly located in border provinces within economic zones which include Chiang Rai, Nan, Tak and Phrae in the North, Narathiwat and Ranong in the South and Nong Khai in the Northeast.
Mr Athapol explained that most of the existing forest checkpoints had failed to intercept timber smuggling because the smugglers had switched to secondary roads to avoid the checkpoints or employed different tricks to hide smuggled timber such as putting the timber in containers and covering them up with other products.
He said that the shutting down of most of the checkpoints would help ease criticism and complaints of officials manning the checkpoints of extorting or demanding bribes from transporters going through the checkpoints.
Forestry officials from the checkpoints that are facing closure would be redeployed at the 25 checkpoints still operational while others would be assigned to new tasks such as is to facilitate and regulate timber import and export.
He insisted that the closure of most checkpoints would not affect the prevention of smuggled timber and suppression of illegal logging because the RFD has already allocated manpower to the tasks.
Between 200-300 million cubic metres of timber are imported into the country from neighbouring countries, mostly through the southern checkpoints bordering Malaysia, Laem Chabang deep-sea port and Klong Toey port. About 10 percent of the imported timber are teak wood.