Monday, September 04, 2006

Troops guard Xmas tree forests

Kiev - Elite Ukrainian commandos trained to battle terrorists and mobsters will guard Christmas tree plantations to prevent their destruction by poachers, the Interfax news agency reported on Wednesday.

Mobile units from the Berkut, Ukraine's paramilitary police force, will patrol fir forests in the western Lviv region for the duration of the holiday season, said Oleh Paska, a police spokesperson.

"This is the time of the year when people go into the woods to cut themselves a Christmas tree, and if no one stops them, we will have no forest left," Paska said.

Ukraine's mountainous Carpathian region is heavily forested and is considered by most Ukrainians the best source for a family Christmas tree.

Most Ukrainians buy trees on city streets from private businessmen working with illegal woodcutters in the Carpathians. A tree typically costs between $10 and $50, depending on type and quality.

Every year the Lviv province alone loses as many as 7 000 trees to the unregulated industry. The most popular targets are pines and firs, Paska said.

Commandos are necessary to prevent the wood-cutting because mobsters control much of the distribution of Christmas trees in Ukraine, and so police sent to stop the business must be well-trained and armed, he added. - Sapa-dpa

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