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Gabon president fires VP, forests minister over hardwood scandal

Credit: REUTERS/TIKSA NEGERI

Gabon's President Ali Bongo has fired his vice president and his forests minister, his office said on Wednesday, after hundreds of containers of illegally logged kevazingo wood that had been seized went missing.

LIBREVILLE, May 22 (Reuters) - Gabon's President Ali Bongo has fired his vice president and his forests minister, his office said on Wednesday, after hundreds of containers of illegally logged kevazingo wood that had been seized went missing.

The statement gave no reason for their removal, but said forests would be managed under the office of the prime minister for the time being.

Bongo had promised to punish anyone implicated in the disappearance of a cache of 392 containers of the wood, which were seized at the port of Owendo in late February and early March. Two Chinese nationals are being held in relation to the case, and last week the head of customs Dieudonne Lewamouo was detained.

Gabonese authorities said last month that they had recovered 200 containers.

Illegal logging is ravaging the forests of West and equatorial Africa, most of it driven by Chinese demand, but rarely do governments take action against suspected culprits.

Since taking over from his father in 2009 - continuing a family dynasty that has exceeded five decades - Ali Ben Bongo has cast himself as an environmental crusader. He has delighted conservation groups by banning raw wood exports, expanding protected zones and creating 13 new national parks.

Despite those efforts Gabon remains a hub for poaching, illegal logging and the illicit wildlife trade.

Bongo suffered a stroke last October while abroad, but returned home in March. Secrecy surrounding the state of Bongo's health during his five-month absence has fuelled instability in Gabon, where declining oil revenues and widespread poverty have dented his popularity.

(Reporting by Gerauds Wilfried Obangome Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Susan Fenton)

((tim.cocks@thomsonreuters.com;))

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