KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Activists on Thursday urged Uganda's government to reverse a decision to open for oil drilling a wildlife park on Uganda's border with Congo, saying the move puts pressure on the region's fragile ecosystems.
Uganda's government is expected to announce next month which companies can bid for six new oil blocks, including one in the Lake Edward basin inside Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park.
That is drawing concern across the border in Congo, where the managers of Virunga National Park — sub-Saharan Africa's oldest wildlife park — have been trying to protect the park from oil exploration.
George Boden of the transparency group Global Witness said that drilling for oil on the Ugandan side of Lake Edward makes it "far more likely that there will be greater pressure to open up areas on the other side of the lake." The Uganda government should reconsider the decision to open up new areas for oil exploration inside protected areas, he added.
Oil exploration is already taking place inside another Ugandan protected area known as Murchison Falls National Park, despite the concerns of some conservationists.
Congo's Virunga, however, has the status of a world heritage site and has been the subject of an international campaign to protect it from oil exploration, specifically from the U.K. oil company SOCO.
Issac Wikerevolo, a Congolese activist with the conservation group Reseau CREF, said the drilling is a threat to the whole of Virunga, fearing that the Uganda drilling will "justify...the arguments of those who want to drill in the Virunga National Park."
Uganda, which first discovered oil in the Albertine Graben in 2006, hopes to begin crude production by 2020.