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No more Bergesh trees will be cut for military academy — agriculture minister

By Hana Namrouqa - Aug 19,2014 - Last updated at Aug 19,2014

AMMAN — Agriculture Minister Akef Zu’bi on Tuesday vowed that "not a single forest tree will be cut down” for the construction of the planned military academy in Bergesh Forest or for any other investment project.

“From now on, not one tree will be chopped down and no forest will be abused in the implementation of the military academy,” Zu’bi told The Jordan Times on the sidelines of a meeting with the press at the ministry.

He described the military academy project in Bergesh as “a vital and national development project”, but stressed that no more forest trees will be cut down in the construction process.

“The construction of the project will be confined to the lands appropriated by the Jordan Armed Forces (JAF), and those lands are bare,” Zu’bi underlined.

In January 2011, the armed forces started construction of the academy in Bergesh Forest, located 90 kilometres northwest of the capital, in Ajloun Governorate. Following objections from the ministries of agriculture and environment, the country’s environment NGOs and activists, as well as the public, construction was halted.

In September 2011, the government decided not to allow the cutting or uprooting of trees in Bergesh Forest, stating that it will remain a forest area, but in May this year, government officials and activists said the JAF resumed cutting down trees to establish the academy.

At the time, the army issued a statement dismissing the claims as baseless and the Jordan News Agency, Petra, quoted a senior JAF source as saying that the JAF is building the facilities on the outskirts of the forest, and that the trees that have been removed were those damaged by last December’s snowstorm.

The armed forces will plant “hundreds of new trees” that are compatible with the ecosystem in the forest, the army source said, adding that the JAF adhered to all relevant laws and regulations when selecting the location for the military academy.

Zu’bi noted that the Agriculture Ministry’s rangers had recorded violations over forest lands in Bergesh and referred them to court.

Bergesh Forest, where green cover stands at 90 per cent, represents an integrated ecosystem that houses over 100 plant species — 13 per cent listed as rare, 4 per cent as locally or internationally threatened and 13 per cent as holding medicinal value, according to ecologists at the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN).

The RSCN had previously noted that the project violates the 2002 temporary agriculture law. Article 28 of the law forbids the inclusion of forests within municipalities’ boundaries, unless approved by the agriculture minister. In addition, the same article prohibits dividing forest land or changing their land use category.

The society said the project will also be in violation of Article 35, Paragraph B of the Agriculture Law, which forbids uprooting, damaging or violating any centennial or rare forest trees and threatened wild plants, in any form. In addition, the terms of reference of the environment impact assessment will breach Environmental Impact Assessment regulation number 37 of the year 2005.

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