The Ecologist

A farm near the Virunga mountains and National Park. Photo: John & Mel Kots via
A farm near the Virunga mountains and National Park. Photo: John & Mel Kots via
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Virunga - police arrest 7 anti-oil gorilla defenders

The Ecologist

1st February 2014

Congolese Police have cracked down on peaceful, legal protests to keep a UK oil company out of Virunga National Park, important for its 200 mountain gorillas.

We should have the right to voice our opinions in peaceful demonstration without fear of reprisal or arrest.

Government ministers have arrived in Goma, eastern Congo from Kinshasa for a meeting about the controversial oil license given to British Oil company, Soco International.

Meanwhile police units cracked down on civil society demonstrations in the nearby town of Kiwanja to protect Virunga National Park - the oldest in Africa, also home to around 200 endangered Mountain gorillas - from oil exploration by Soco.

Seven activists were arrested by the police, even though all legal requirements for such a demonstration had been fulfilled by the protestors and the authorities were informed.

Roads blocked, banners seized and burnt

Police also blocked roads to prevent further people coming to join the protest as well as seizing and burning protest banners, making their crack down before the protest began.

Bantu Lukambo, President of local group IDPE said: "We were exercising our right to free speech as protected by the Congolese constitution. We should have the right to voice our opinions in peaceful demonstration without fear of reprisal or arrest."

The protestors are demonstrating against the presence of British oil company's Soco's in Block V, eastern Congo, within the Virunga Park, which is also a World Heritage site.

A threat to local livelihoods

The planned oil exploration presents a threat to local people's livelihoods in the agricultural and fishing industries. Many farmers and fisherpeople in the area are deeply concerned at the threat of oil spills wiping out their natural resources. 

Lukambo said: "Popular opposition is growing steadily against the oil company. This is the first time the farming communities have expressed their opinion and they clearly don't want Soco to continue threatening our community."

In a letter to Congo's Prime Minister Matata Ponyo, the protesters called on him to break ties with Soco International in favour of supporting local communities livelihoods.

"Soco wants to sacrifice our lives by destroying our environment, the Park, the lake and the agricultural landscape", they complained.

Announcement due

The Ministry of Hydrocarbons intends to make an announcement at the meeting today with regard to the next stage of Soco's work in Block V, eastern Congo.

Local actors have set up an alternative forum for the communities of eastern Congo to show their commitment to protecting the region.

The international community - including the British Government and several United Nations agencies - has also condemned Soco's proposed activities in Virunga National Park.



Also in The Ecologist: 

Oil threat to Virunga's mountain gorillas

Rwandan militia murder Congo 'gorilla guardian'



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