WWF staff threatened over Virunga
Reports of intimidation have increased in the weeks since Virunga Chief Warden Emmanuel de Merode was shot multiple times in an ambush while driving alone in a park vehicle. An official investigation into the shooting is underway. Civil society activists tell WWF that they too have received menacing calls, text messages and notes. The callers to WWF said that they had missed killing de Merode, but would not miss WWF’s employee.
WWF insists that authorities in DRC do everything in their power to bring the perpetrators of these threats and de Merode’s attack to justice.
Tensions are high in Virunga National Park as UK oil company Soco International PLC conducts seismic tests in Lake Edward. WWF condemns the testing and all exploratory activities in the protected World Heritage Site. Oil exploitation could put at risk the livelihoods of 50,000 families that depend on the lake for jobs, food and drinking water. Fishermen tell WWF that they have been restricted from Lake Edward during seismic testing and fear that drilling could lead to contamination.
Opposition to Soco’s operations in Virunga is increasing worldwide. Last week, a DRC-based UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office secretary, Mark Power, reiterated the UK government’s position against oil exploration in the park. Nobel laureate and anti-Apartheid campaigner Desmond Tutu also spoke out on the issue recently. In an editorial, Tutu, Richard Branson of Virgin Group and philanthropist Howard G. Buffett called Soco’s exploration illegal, and warned that it could be devastating.
At its meeting last year, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee issued a call for all Virunga exploration permits to be cancelled. The group of governments is set to take up the issue again next month during its annual gathering. A report by UNESCO, IUCN and Ramsar secretariats assessing the conservation status of the World Heritage Site is expected to be released later this week.