UPDATE: Soco have denied the allegation that it paid for the ICCN delegation in this Guardian article. A spokesman for Soco in London is reported to have said “It was definitely not paid for by Soco in any way. A request [for Soco to pay for the delegation] was made by the ICCN in May but was politely turned down.
Further questions raised by @virungamovie contributor Melanie Gouby in today's Le Figaro and Soco's funding of DRC Delegation to World Heritage Committee Meeting.
Yesterday we received this document dated 19th May 2014 showing that the ICCN delegation to the UNESCO annual session of the World Heritage committee starting in Doha on Sunday was to be funded by Soco DRC.
The Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) is the Congolese state institution in charge of protecting the Democratic Republic of Congo's national park and enforcing Congolese and International law relating to conservation. As such, the ICCN is the institution tasked with enforcing the UNESCO convention, which forbids oil exploration in World Heritage sites, and has been one of the main legal mechanisms standing in the way of Soco's plan to explore for oil in the Virunga National Park.
If Soco is indeed still funding the delegation, this would raise serious questions as to their intention in doing so and the validity of their commitment to withdraw from Virunga. It is also important to note that delegation also includes two consultants known to be working for Soco International.
In addition to this information Virunga contributor Melanie Gouby uncovers new evidence of Soco's thinking on the intention behind their recent statement on the withdrawal in Le Figaro today. The article references a letter sent on Wednesday to the Congolese prime minister from the director of Soco DRC, José Sangwa saying:
"Following the announcements made this morning on several national and international radio stations, stating our withdrawal from oil exploration activities in Virunga National Park, we would like to inform your authority that this information is inaccurate and does not exactly reflect the spirit of the joint declaration SOCO-WWF secured through the mediation of the OECD following the WWF 's complaint against SOCO"
"We wish to clarify that as soon as Phase 1 of this exploration is completed, that is to say the seismic and geological surveys, SOCO will process and interpret the dataset and we will be able to determine mid-2015 if there are areas to be drilled so that the DRC Government can take all appropriate steps to continue or not this exploration"
The letter also specifies that "a negotiation may be initiated between the two parties (UNESCO and the DRC government) for the creation of a buffer zone" in the park.
This news in addition to Soco International’s Deputy CEO Roger Cagle's statement to The Times that “if the DRC wanted to benefit from its oil, it could even apply to UNESCO to remove Virunga from the list of World Heritage Sites" raises further concerns about the sincerity of Soco's intentions regarding the deal it has signed with WWF, and indeed as Mr Sangwa himself stated, put in question the validity of the statements announcing the company's withdrawal from the Virunga National Park.
We reassert that this withdrawal must be unconditional, based upon Congolese and international rule of law, and include a way to safeguard Virunga National Park from future exploration.
We also ask that Soco clarifies the nature of its involvement at the World Heritage meeting in Doha, as well as what the company intends to do with its concession beyond the completion of the seismic survey.