The mountainous region of Lak Xao in Central Laos has emerged as a haven for timber and wildlife product smugglers. General Cheng Sayavong, a self-styled leader, commands an empire on the mountain where he carries out logging operations and runs a private zoo. His military company, Bolisat Phatkhana Khet Phoudoi, has formed joint ventures with timber companies of Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Last year, Cheng legally cleared 300,000 cu m of yellow pine in the Nakai plateau near Lak Xao, which had grown for more than 1,000 years on the plateau with each tree valued at more than us $2,400. The trees were cleared to make way for the Nam Thuen ii dam whose fate is yet to be decided by the World Bank. General Cheng's zoo houses some of the most endangered species like the giant muntjac and the sambar deer, Malaysian sun bears and macaques. The plateau is lined by a protected area where several unexplored ethnic groups and animal species roam.

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