Forest protection activities in three neighbouring provinces in the north-west, Thai Nguyen, Bac Kan and Lang Son, have improved since a steering committees was formed to fight illegal forestry at the start of the year, said the deputy head of the Forest Management Department, Nguyen Van Cuong.

Cuong, whose department comes under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, said the provinces had dealt with 172,000 violations and reclaimed 47,000ha of forest.

The three provinces contain more than 1.6 million hectares of natural land, about half of it covered with trees. The forests have high economic and environment value - and are home to rare species of timber and animals.

However, the main residents are ethnic people whose livelihood depends heavily on forest resources. Many families are below the poverty line.

"Many residents work for local speculators in logging and transporting trees," Cuong said.

According to the deputy head of Bac Kan's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Bui Van Dinh, many farmers took park in illegal logging after harvest time.

"In some cases, we reclaimed hundreds of trees which were being exported through the Lang Son border gates," he said.

Dinh called for tighter co-operation with Lang Son Province. He said 80 percent of the rare timber species in Bac Kan had already been exported.

Deputy Minister Hua Duc Nhi ordered forest management departments to check the quantity of timber remaining in the forests.

The ministry instructed agricultural and rural development departments to provide arable land for poor households./.