Hoodlums killed protected trees at resort, says owner

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 April, 2007, 12:00am

Gangsters armed with chainsaws mowed down trees in an eco-tourism village north of Beijing last week after failing to extort money from hoteliers, hotel staff said yesterday.

'It has turned into a warlord's zone of its own,' said Laurence Brahm, owner of the Red Capital Range resort next to the forest where the trees were chopped down.

Resort manager Chester Yap said he could not believe his eyes around 7.30am on Friday when he found 10 men armed with chainsaws and axes chopping down trees in front of the resort in Guandi village, Yanqi county.

Yanqi, in the Huairou area at the foot of the Great Wall and known for its fishing grounds, is a natural preserve protected by the local government and covered by a logging ban that can only be lifted with special permission.

Hotel staff immediately called the local forestry department and police, but the authorities did not arrive at the site until early afternoon, when the loggers had left.

Police said they would try to track the men, but officers never returned to inform hotel staff, according to Mr Yap.

When contacted yesterday, the local forestry department charged with enforcing the rules confirmed that an investigation was under way, but refused to provide more details.

Mr Brahm, a South China Morning Post columnist, said this was not a one-off incident. Hotel staff recognised the loggers as villagers who had been constantly pestering the resort and other tourism operators in the area for about five years.

He said the gang had previously asked him to pay 250,000 yuan for the area to be left alone. He refused, but other gangs had also approached him in the hope of extorting money.

Mr Brahm said the police claimed the damage caused by the thugs was beyond their control and may require 'another gang to deal with it'.

'We came to invest in the area, and we try to protect the area,' Mr Brahm said. 'But the thugs are taking advantage of this.'

The resort, and public area around it, has sustained substantial damage in the past few years - gangs have damaged property walls and water pipes, and also broken up rocks on the slope, which were used to hold trees and prevent erosion.

Mr Yap said he only started working at the resort in January, but in three months he had seen men putting a car battery in the river to kill the fish. 'It's very shocking what people do here,' he said.

Mr Yap said the gang hired a crane and several trucks to remove the timber on Sunday.