Democratic Republic of Congo plans to allow oil exploration in national parks home to endangered mountain gorillas

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Documents seen by The Independent show the government plans to re-draw the borders of the Salonga and Virunga national parks

The Democratic Republic of Congo is planning to reclassify two protected national parks to allow oil exploration.

Documents seen by The Independent show the government wants to redraw the boundaries of the Salonga and Virunga national parks, which are home to critically endangered species such as mountain gorillas, to remove protected status from certain areas.

Both parks are UNESCO World Heritage sites, a status which in theory should protect them from oil exploration and other extractive activities.

In a letter, Congo's oil minister Aime Ngoi Muken invited the environment minister and the minister for scientific research to a special commission meeting to discuss the plans on 27 April.

Minutes and notes of the meeting give more details about the areas in which the Congolese government wants to allow exploration.

In another series of letters seen by NGO Global Witness, Congo's oil minister Ngoi Muken argued for the need to open up the protected sites for oil exploration and set out the legal procedures to do so.

Global Witness said the plans would be a violation of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention to which the Democratic Republic of Congo is a signatory.

The Virunga park is one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet and is home to about a quarter of the world's remaining mountain gorillas.

According to UNESCO, the Salonga park is Africa's largest tropical rainforest, home to many endangered species such as bonobos, dwarf chimpanzees, Congo peacocks and forest elephants.

Peter Jones, a campaign leader on corruption for Global Witness, said the attempt to open up the parks must be halted immediately.

"If we cannot protect even UNESCO World Heritage Sites from oil exploration where in the world is safe from the fossil fuel industry?

"The potential damage to these rare and valuable ecosystems is enormous. The Congolese government should be seeking to extend protection of these areas rather than selling them off to the highest bidder."

In another series of letters seen by NGO Global Witness, Congo's oil minister Ngoi Muken argued for the need to open up the protected sites for oil exploration and set out the legal procedures to do so.

Global Witness said the plans would be a violation of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention to which the Democratic Republic of Congo is a signatory.

The Virunga park is one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet and is home to about a quarter of the world's remaining mountain gorillas.

According to UNESCO, the Salonga park is Africa's largest tropical rainforest, home to many endangered species such as bonobos, dwarf chimpanzees, Congo peacocks and forest elephants.

Peter Jones, a campaign leader on corruption for Global Witness, said the attempt to open up the parks must be halted immediately.

"If we cannot protect even UNESCO World Heritage Sites from oil exploration where in the world is safe from the fossil fuel industry?

"The potential damage to these rare and valuable ecosystems is enormous. The Congolese government should be seeking to extend protection of these areas rather than selling them off to the highest bidder."

In February, Congolese President Kabila authorised oil exploration inside areas which partially overlapped with the Salonga park.

At the time, oil minister oil minister Ngoi Muken said no land should be off limits for oil exploration in the country.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/drc-congo-oil-national-parks-gorillas-virunga-salonga-endangered-special-mountain-a8336286.html

 

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