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Russia - Siberian native people threatened by a new danger

Moscow intends to lease Siberian forests to China

Bolzano/Bozen, Göttingen, 24. August 2006

As advocate of the native peoples of Siberia the Society for Threatened Peoples (GfbV) has issued an earnest warning concerning the leasing of Russian forests to China. The newspaper "Moscow Times" reported last Wednesday on the Kremlin's plans in this direction. Russia is planning to lease one million hectares of forest for 49 years in the region of Tyumen and Sverdlovsk in West Siberia to Chinese state timber companies. This is an area four times larger than the Saarland.

"For the Chanty, Mansi, Selkups and Evenks the official use of their forests by foreign firms means an additional threat. They are haunted by the fear that the forests will not be put to sustainable use, but that wood will be cut down ruthlessly, thus destroying the means of life of the reindeer breeders with their tradition of allowing their herds to graze in the forests", said the GfbV expert for the states of the Russian Federation, Sarah Reinke, on Thursday in Göttingen. This would also be to all intents and purposes an irreparable breach of the spiritual and cultural heartland of the native people.

The ruthless exploitation of the minerals like oil and natural gas, gold, diamonds and uranium in their traditional homelands has already done much to drive out the native people of Siberia and many have had to give up against their will their old way of life. Unemployment, criminality and social uprooting have led to the life expectation of the indigenous people being ten years below that of the Russian average.

A large-scale deforestation programme would in addition be a catastrophe for the environmentally sensitive region. For the Siberian forests are alongside the rain-forests of the Amazons the "green lung" of the world. Russia possesses over 22 percent of the wooded area of the earth, Brazil over 16 percent. Through massive and illegal tree-felling these forests are now in great danger. It is precisely on the Chinese border that large parts of the forest have been cut down. Russia officially exports 15 cubic metres of hardwood to China, making up 37 percent of all Russian hardwood exports. In the case of conifers 45 percent of the Russian exports go to the People's Republic.

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