European timber companies have helped fund the war in the Central African Republic through lucrative deals with rebel militia groups accused of war crimes, campaign group Global Witness alleges in a new report. It accuses the EU of failing to stop imports of illegal timber to Europe. Timber companies from France, Lebanon and China paid more than $4m (£2.5m) to rebels in 2013 alone, mainly for protection services, the report says. Thousands of people have been killed in the conflict, and the UN has accused rebels on all sides of mass murder, kidnappings, rapes and the forced recruitment of child soldiers.
The report also criticises the EU for failing to seize any timber coming from the CAR since the start of the conflict, despite European regulations against illegal timber. Europe accounts for nearly two-thirds of timber exports from the CAR, and companies in France, Germany and Belgium have all been trading in the commodity, it says. "It is tragically ironic that while European governments invested hundreds of millions of euros in military and peacekeeping operations in CAR, those same governments have failed to keep conflict timber off EU markets," Alexandra Pardal, Campaign Leader for Global Witness said in a statement.