Virunga National Park Head Ranger in jail in Congo for opposing illegal construction work within park boundaries
The Head Ranger of the Central Sector of Virunga National Park, Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo, is held in jail already for five days by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) in Goma. He was arrested by the military for opposing the execution of a project of UK oil company Soco International, local NGO partners in the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) explained on Tuesday, 24 September 2013.
The arrest of Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo occurred on Thursday 19 September 2013 at around 22.00 hours local in Kanyabayonga. Acccording to environmental NGOs, the Head Ranger received several threats after opposing a project by Soco International to build a telephone antenna in the National Park. Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo was officially arrested for "ignoring orders of the top hierarchy of the state," said the technical and scientific director of ICCN, Dr. Guy Mbayma.
"Soco International has an obligation to deliver social projects. And local communities in Nyakakoma demanded the installation of a telephone antenna. The personal representative of the President of the DRC came to inaugurate the work. Mr. Rodrigue suspended a project that was following the instructions of the President of the Republic. Therefore he was taken into custody immediately!" says Dr. Guy Mbayma.
ICCN however works closely together with SOCO International. Bantu Lukambu, director of local NGO Innovation for the Development and Protection of Environment (IDPE): "The coalition of SOCO International - ICCN is more than ever determined to silence all those who do not support the proposed oil exploration project in Virunga National Park."
At least four other environmental activists were arrested for opposing the project by Soco International at Nyakakoma. The arrest of the Head Ranger Mugaruka is therefore a reason for concern both for civil society as well as for executives of Virunga National Park, which are involved in this case according to ICCN.
Soco has obtained government permits for oil epxloration in block 5, which covers about 85% of Virunga National Park. The presidential order granting exploration and production of oil has been signed by the Head of State in June 2010.
However, since the enactment of this Ordinance, the exploration and exploitation of oil in the Virunga National Park met with resistance from ICCN, local politicians and environmental NGOs.
Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo reunited with his family after more than 2 weeks detention!