BRUSSELS – On Thursday, the head of Belgian diplomacy declared the resumption of oil exploration activities by the British company Soco International in the Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) “illegal”.
The Congolese government has recently authorized the South Africa Congo Oil (Soco) to conduct explorations, including air surveys, in “Block V” of Albertine Graben, located in the heart of Virunga National Park, which is listed as World Heritage by UNESCO, Belgium Minister Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders told MPs.
But this authority is “contrary to law and Congolese international commitments “of the DRC, a former Belgian colony, he stated, quoted by the Belgium news agency.
Created in 1925, Virunga Park, in North Kivu at the border of Rwanda, is home to the famous mountain gorillas and a small population of lowland gorillas, which are threatened with extinction.
“The international community must respond. Such a reaction, including the European Union and UNESCO, could have an impact on Soco and the Congolese authorities”, Mr. Reynders added, lamenting that Soco “continued pressure on the Congolese authorities to begin exploration activities”.
The minister said he would raise this question with the Congolese authorities during a trip to Kinshasa in the next scheduled weeks.
“Block V” is an oil concession that was given as a production sharing contract to a consortium of three companies: Soco as an implementing partner, Dominion Petroleum and the Congolese hydrocarbons (Cohydro).
In March 2011, the Environment Minister of the DRC, Jose Endundo suspended exploration activities in the park, the oldest park of Africa.
In the parliamentary debate, a Belgian MP, Georges Dallemagne, explained that the Congolese government had justified its reversal by the need “to evaluate the amount of oil reserves in the region to help the country decide whether to allow exploration of the park”.