FEB 2011: SOCO enters Virunga Park Illegally

SOCO has previously been accused by the Park’s managers of entering Virunga illegally, notably in February 2011 when representatives travelling in a SOCO vehicle are reported to have forced the barriers. In a response to Global Witness SOCO stated that these accusations were “without merit” and that “no SOCO personnel or representatives have been involved in such an incident.”

Source: Global Witness

Soco worker freed: UK oil company Soco International said today a worker for a security contractor was held after a kidnapping incident in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Congo: a Soco worker kidnapped earlier this week has been freed

Source: By News Wires

17 February 2011 06:44 GMT

Rebels in eastern Congo have freed a South African man working for British oil company Soco International , the United Nations said Today.

Soco announced Tuesday the security contractor was missing following an attack on one of the company’s cars in a region of the central African country where rebels are active.

“He was released on Wednesday at 1800 (local time, 1600 GMT), and is currently in the town of Rutshuru,” UN spokesman Alexandre Essome told Reuters by telephone, adding the man was in good health.

An unnamed source close to the negotiations told Reuters his captors initially demanded $300,000 for his release but Essome said that as far as he was aware no money had changed hands.

The incident highlighted concerns about security in eastern Congo, where mining and oil companies want to access untapped resources but where local and foreign armed groups operate.

Soco has two oil interests in Congo. But it abandoned two exploration wells last year due to poor results and is also under pressure not to hunt for oil in parts of Block 5 in Congo’s Albertine Graben as it overlaps with a national park.

A spokesman for the gunmen claiming to have held the South African told Reuters on Tuesday he had been captured for his own safety during a firefight with Congolese soldiers accompanying the group. He added that a soldier who was also reported kidnapped during the incident had fled soon afterwards.

The incident took place on a road in Virunga National Park between Rutshuru and the Ugandan border, in Congo’s North Kivu province, where Rwandan extremist FDLR rebels are active.

Park officials said security was so bad that its vehicles had been banned from using the road for the last 10 days and that the Soco team had entered the park illegally.

“We had three rangers on the gate but the military with them forced entry,” Emmanuel de Merode, director of Virunga National Park, told Reuters. Soco’s Maris said he was unaware whether the group had entered the park but said they had been under strict instruction not to do so.

Soco and its partner Dominion Petroleum were handed Block 5 last June despite concerns from environmentalists that much of it lies inside Africa ‘s oldest National Park. Last month the UN world heritage body UNESCO expressed concern over possible plans to allow mineral prospecting in Virunga.

Soco has said it should increase security in the park.