Greenpeace accuses DR Congo of signing vast new logging contracts

The Congo Basin Forest, the world's second largest rainforest after the Amazon, covers two-thirds of DR Congo's surface

Greenpeace on Thursday accused the Democratic Republic of Congo's government of signing huge new logging contracts in the country's vast rainforest, a central part of Earth's natural defence against global warming.

The green activist group alleged environment minister Claude Nyamugabo signed at least nine contracts in January covering nearly two million hectares (20,000 square kilometres) -- an area the size of Slovenia.

The concession contracts were awarded to two Chinese firms, according to Greenpeace, which added that the move came just weeks after DR Congo was given $12 million in international aid as part of the "Programme for the Sustainable Management of Forests".

"The minister must deliver on his promises of transparency and publish on the ministry's website before Friday all documents pertaining to these allocations," Greenpeace said in a statement.

The Congo Basin Forest, the world's second largest rainforest after the Amazon, covers two-thirds -- or 1.5 million square kilometres -- of the surface of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Officially, the Congolese government has only handed out logging concessions for a little over 110,000 square kilometres of that land.

And there is a moratorium on new logging concessions under the central African country's 2002 forestry code.

"No new concessions have been awarded," Nyamugabo told AFP on the sidelines of a forest policy meeting in the capital Kinshasa on Wednesday.

He said that instead the name of one of the firms awarded an existing contract had changed.

"We are in the process of fulfilling the conditions to lift the moratorium in consultation with our partners," he told AFP on the sidelines of a forest policy meeting in Kinshasa on Wednesday.