Forests and timber have had two distinct roles in conflict cycles. Competition for access to forest resources can create conflict between different groups; and timber can be sold into international commodity markets to raise money to pay for wars. Conflicts that have involved timber in one of these ways range from small-scale, low-intensity violence at the community-level to full scale civil wars. Community-level conflict may not appear so serious but is dangerous for those that live in the area, compromises development and can be exacerbated or exploited by rebel groups for political ends.
Recent examples of high-intensity conflicts in which timber played a significant role include Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burma and Liberia.
Conflict timber often coincides with illegal timber: because the illegal exploitation of forests by elites can lead to conflict with those that live in the forest or rely on non-commercial access to forest resources; and because both governments and rebel groups have logged illegally, or been complicit with illegal logging, in order to fund military campaigns.
In Cambodia, for example, Khmer Rouge forces were sustained primarily by the revenue from logging areas under their control for several years in the mid-1990s. When, under donor pressure, the Thai and Cambodian governments cooperated to close their joint border to log exports at the end of 1996, the insurgents were forced to open peace negotiations.
Recent examples show that transparent, legal and equitable management of forest resources in timber-producing countries can support the development of 'good governance' in the natural resource sector more generally; and encourage the growth of civil society, a key element of conflict-prevention and democracy.