War is being waged in the jungle in disputes between aggressive timber poachers and forest rangers trying to stand their ground. A series of violent clashes between poachers and rangers over the past eight years has resulted in the deaths of at least 13 rangers and injured more than 200 others. Last month, in the most recent reported case, more than 100 poachers attacked local authorities with knives and stones in Bu Gia Map National Park, about 150km north of Ho Chi Minh City. In retaliation for official intervention in a recent illegal logging operation, the gang held local officials hostage in their headquarters for hours on February 6. Several were injured in the attack. 'They beat me mercilessly,' forest ranger Nguyen Hai Hung told Lao Dong newspaper. Just four months earlier, the head of a forest ranger team was shot to death by poachers about 100km from Hanoi. The rangers were chasing the poachers when one turned and fired a gun nine times, killing ranger Tran Xuan Bac, 29. The incidents have shocked locals, for whom war is largely a distant memory and violent crime rare. Bu Gia Map park director Nguyen Dai Phu said the perpetrators were driven to violence by poverty. 'Local people are very poor and they earn their living by exploiting forest products. When they are prevented from doing that, of course they will resist. Their lives depend on the forest,' he said. In recent years Vietnam has been trying to restore its once-abundant forests, whose steady destruction is partially attributed to unregulated logging. Nguyen Van Cuong, vice-director of the national forest protection department, said clamping down on timber poaching was one of several restoration measures. But he said local authorities were poorly organised and lacked equipment, and that rangers earned an average of just US$50 a month. 'We lack funding,' Mr Cuong said. 'Our country has gone through two big wars and we have to reserve money for many other things which are more important.' He said rangers were equipped with tear gas and other weapons, but that there were only 87,000 full-time rangers nationwide, far short of the government's own recommendations. Rangers were often outnumbered by poachers with superior weaponry, zealously protecting their traditional and relatively lucrative way of life. Mr Cuong said Vietnam was nevertheless making progress in forest conservation. Forest cover had grown from a low of 29 per cent in 1997 to 36 per cent today. And while illegal logging remains common, with the forest protection department reporting 7,700 cases last year, it has dropped from a recent average of 12,000 a year.