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LETTER: Threat to Madagascar's forests

From Mr Paul Hellyer Sir: Richard D. North's article "Less forest but less poverty, too" (12 January) has the appearance of taking a dispassionate view of Third World development priorities. In fact, it is peppered with half-truths, erroneous assumptionsand speculation.

Andrew Lees and I took months to investigate the issues surrounding the mining by RTZ of the Fort Dauphin region in Madagascar. This research included the views and opinions of locals directly affected and informed outside opinion. It included economic and political issues, together with viable alternatives for the region and the Malagasy government. Speculation that we considered the environment only from a Western perspective - the "redundant orthodoxies" and "ecolonialism" to which Mr North refers - is wholly misguided. Tourism development has tremendous regional potential, would generate local wealth and be sustainable. Mining rules out this option irrevocably. Second-guessing our conclusions is misplaced - Mr North is simply hanging this project on the peg of his own opinions with complete disregard for the facts of the matter.

As family and friends come to terms with their grief, these facts will emerge. Facts such as that the forests in question are remnant littoral forests and unique, not rainforests. Facts that will ridicule Mr North's assertion that 60 miles out of a coastline of 4,000 are expendable - such trite statements would be disavowed by anyone who has visited the region.

Mr North finds the political situation in Madagascar in relation to resolving these issues "mildly reassuring". Let us not turn a blind eye to the complexities and realities of decision-making in a country with a fledgling democracy, little transparency in politics in the absence of a strong press and access to information, and the power of vested interests. Yes, the new democratic government should be supported - supported in making decisions which represent the best overall solutions for their country, not short-term cash-flows and plundering of natural resources for foreign interests.

Yes, it's a real world out there. Let's deal with this from a properly informed perspective as Andrew would have done.

Yours faithfully, PAUL HELLYER London, W11

Paul Hellyer was Andrew Lees's companion on his last project in Madagascar.