Ban on UK search for Congo park oil
A British firm will not be allowed to explore for oil in a protected national park in volatile eastern Congo, the government has ruled.
The decision was welcomed by environmental campaigners who believe the Unesco world heritage site should be protected.
Congo's Minister for the Environment Jose Endundo said the government does not accept Soco International's environmental impact assessment that would allow them to explore the part of its oil concession that lies within Virunga National Park.
The British firm shares with two other companies a 2,900 sq mile concession, half of which lies in the park's southern sector. Congolese law forbids oil exploration inside the park.
"We have rejected the recommendations of an environmental impact assessment conducted by the oil company, Soco, which we consider premature, superficial and which does not conform to the standards which we would expect," he said.
Mr Endundo said the government will conduct its own study and that the oil company has assured him they "will not attempt any prospection work in the park unless a positive consensus is achieved in their favour".
The park is home to 200 of the world's nearly 700 remaining mountain gorillas and contains more species of mammals, reptiles and birds than any other protected area in Africa, or perhaps the world.
Environmental campaigners welcomed the government's decision.
WWF International communications manager Natalia Reiter said exploration could "set an extremely dangerous precedent that even the most precious places on earth are open for oil and gas development".
"The government today made a step in the right direction and we hope to see a firm declaration guaranteeing there would be no exploration in this iconic and fragile park now or in the future," she said. "It is absolutely outrageous to see narrow interests of oil companies taking priority over the need to maintain one of the most precious places on this planet."