16 April 2014, News Wires – The head of Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park is in a serious but stable condition after being shot in an ambush campaigners say could be linked to his opposition to resource exploitation in the park.
Belgian Emmanuel de Merode, who has been chief warden of the park since 2008, is a vocal opponent of the illegal charcoal trade, which has been linked to a previous attack on the park.
Rebel members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, which opposes the government in neighboring Rwanda and which is involved in the illegal charcoal trade, was blamed by the park for the attack in January in which a park ranger and three rebels died.
The militias have been trying to gain control of an area within the park close to the habitat that is home to about a quarter of the world’s population of critically endangered mountain gorillas.
Campaign group Global Witness urged for the latest shooting to be investigated for any potential link to resource exploitation.
“The attack on de Merode is a terrible example of the kind of violence facing those working to protect the environment from unsustainable exploitation and abuse,” Global Witness said.
In the attack, De Merode’s car was set upon by three men with assault rifles as he returned to his home at the park’s headquarters in Rumangabo from Goma.
The chief warden received surgery at a hospital in Goma and is due to be airlifted to Nairobi, according to the park.
De Merode is also opposed to oil exploration within the park.
London-based Soco International gained approval in recent weeks for a 2D seismic survey over its Block 5 concession at Lake Edward.
The operator said it obtained regulatory approval from the government, pre-programme environmental and regulatory sign-off from the managers of the park and carried out extensive consultation with local communities.
Some of the company’s 7500-square kilometre block lies within the park, but it does not extend over the mountain gorilla habitat, volcanic or equatorial rainforest areas, according to Soco International.
The explorer believes that the Albertine Graben acreage along the border with Uganda could hold as much as 3.5 billion barrels of oil.
The World Wide Fund for Nature has called for Soco to halt oil exploration at the park over environmental concerns, while the explorer says its activities are legal and being conducted at the invitation of the country’s government.
In May 2013, Total said it would not explore for oil in the one-third of its Block 3 that lies within the park’s borders.