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Cablegate: Ministerial Conference Pledges Stronger Protection

VZCZCXRO5571
PP RUEHBZ
DE RUEHLGB #0499/01 2061530
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 241530Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY KIGALI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5473
INFO RUEHDS/AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA PRIORITY 0183
RUEHBZ/AMEMBASSY BRAZZAVILLE PRIORITY
RUEHBS/AMEMBASSY BRUSSELS PRIORITY 0264
RUEHJB/AMEMBASSY BUJUMBURA PRIORITY 0356
RUEHDR/AMEMBASSY DAR ES SALAAM PRIORITY 1171
RUEHKM/AMEMBASSY KAMPALA PRIORITY 1940
RUEHKI/AMEMBASSY KINSHASA PRIORITY 0491
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 0271
RUEHNR/AMEMBASSY NAIROBI PRIORITY 1268
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 0532
RUEHTC/AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE PRIORITY 0186
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0140

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 KIGALI 000499

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

OES A/S CMCMURRAY
USAID JFLYNN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID ECON EFIN EINV ETRD PGOV PREL RW
SUBJECT: MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE PLEDGES STRONGER PROTECTION
TO MOUNTAIN GORILLA HABITAT

1. (U) SUMMARY: In a U.S.-led conference on conservation of
the Greater Virunga Transboundary Landscape - home to the
world's last 700 mountain gorillas - ministers from Rwanda,
Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) pledged to
strengthen conservation and security efforts in the region.
In a joint declaration July 15, the three governments
recognized the unique nature of the Greater Virunga Landscape
and called for investment in eco-tourism friendly
infrastructure, implementation of revenue sharing policies
benefiting local communities and institutionalization of
regional conservation cooperation. The Ministerial
Declaration condemned the presence of armed groups in the DRC
area of Virunga National Park and called for their
disarmament and evacuation from protected areas. END SUMMARY.


2. (U) The State Department Bureau of Oceans, Environment and
Science (OES) and USAID/CARPE sponsored the conference, held
in Gisenyi, Rwanda July 13-15. Attendees included tourism
and environment ministers from the three countries that
border the Greater Virunga Transboundary Landscape (Rwanda,
Uganda, and the DRC), as well as 45 delegates representing
the Presidents' offices of the three countries, national park
services, conservation NGOs, the Governor and Environment
Minister of North Kivu Province, the United Nations
Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations peacekeeping
mission in the DRC (MONUC), and diplomats from donor
countries. Assistant Secretary (A/S) OES Claudia McMurray
co-chaired the event with Rwandan Minister of Trade and
Industry, Monique Nsanzabaganwa, Ugandan Minister of State
for Tourism, Wild-Life and Antiquities, Serapio Rukundo and
DRC Secretary General for the Ministry of Environment, Nature
Conservation and Tourism, Dr. Abel Kalambai.

-------------------
Unique Biodiversity
-------------------

3. (U) Conference delegates highlighted the unique nature of
the Greater Virunga Landscape, which is home to 414
indigenous species including 43 percent of Africa,s birds,
27 percent of the continent's mammals, and the last remaining
mountain gorilla populations on Earth. This rich
biodiversity is threatened by growing demographic pressures;
the region is among the poorest and most densely populated
areas in Africa, with up to 1,070 inhabitants per square mile
and average per capita income under $2 per day and pressures
from more than 800,000 refugees.

------------------------
But Threatened by Humans
------------------------

4. (U) Andrew Plumptre from the Wildlife Conservation Society
(WCS) told attendees that the Virunga forest is under attack
from agricultural encroachment, poaching, harvesting of wood
for charcoal, oil exploration and armed conflict. Plumptre
asserted that conservation of the forest habitat in
conjunction with tourism offered the highest value and most
sustainable benefits to both governments and local
communities. Plumptre estimated the revenue stream of the
Virunga landscape from tourism and ecosystem values (such as
QVirunga landscape from tourism and ecosystem values (such as
biodiversity, carbon credits and soil fertility) at over $100
million annually. Delegates universally supported
conservation efforts but also recognized conservation would
fail if local communities did not benefit from tourism
projects. Participants discussed current revenue sharing
programs in the bordering parks and called for expanding
these programs to ensure local communities inhabiting the
landscape benefit from park revenues and become stakeholders
in regional conservation and tourism.

--------------------------------------------- ------------
Could be "The Golden Goose" for the Region...if Protected
--------------------------------------------- ------------


KIGALI 00000499 002 OF 003


5. (U) Both Uganda and Rwanda have experienced rapidly
expanding revenues from tourism. Rosette Rugamba, Director
General for Rwanda,s Office of Tourism and National Parks
told delegates that tourism was Rwanda,s second highest
foreign exchange earner for 2007, with revenues of $34
million (up from less than $1 million in 2001), and employed
more than 252,000 Rwandans in the sector. The Ministers from
Rwanda and Uganda urged increased investment in tourism
infrastructure to facilitate further growth. Minister
Rukundo (Uganda) noted that, despite its outstanding natural
resources, the region is not capturing a proportionate share
of the international tourism market as a result of inadequate
tourism infrastructure.

--------------------------------------------
Armed Bands in the DRC Threaten Conservation
--------------------------------------------

6. (U) In contrast to Rwanda and Uganda, the DRC has
virtually no tourism revenue from Virunga National Park.
Lack of security and the presence of armed groups in
protected park areas have destroyed infrastructure,
devastated wildlife and displaced local communities. Cosma
Wilungla, Director of the Congolese Institute for Nature
Conservation (ICCN) explained that the Government of the DRC
controls only 60 percent of protected park areas, while the
remaining 40 percent is inaccessible to park rangers. The
lack of security has made tourism development nearly
impossible, he said. Large mammals have been devastated by
the lack of security in the park. Cosma noted that in
addition to the seven mountain gorillas killed in 2007, the
population of hippos in the park has declined from 30,000 a
few years ago to less than 500 today.

7. (U) Participants voiced unanimous concern about the
destructive impact of armed groups in the protected areas of
the DRC. A/S McMurray noted "it is vital to rid Virunga
National Park of militia groups who threaten both people and
wildlife. Without security, economic growth from tourism and
other investment will not occur." The Governor of North Kivu
DRC, Julien Paluku Kahongya echoed A/S McMurray's remarks,
calling the destruction of protected areas in the DRC
"environmental genocide." Nicholas Jenks from USAID provided
delegates with an overview of security-related threats to the
tri-national park system and on-going international peace
efforts, and concluded "the threats to the Grand Virunga have
at least some of their roots in the prevailing military
situation." MONUC Civil Affairs Officer, Edem Blege added
that "the region was paying the price in lost tourism
revenue."
-------------------------------------------
Conservation Lobby Could Help Peace Process
--------------------------------------------

8. (SBU) In a lunch meeting with A/S McMurray on July 17,
Rwandan Secretary General for Internal Security, Ambassador
Joseph Mutaboba, and Rwandan Director General of the National
Security Service, Joseph Nzabamwita congratulated A/S
McMurray for her initiative in bringing together the
QMcMurray for her initiative in bringing together the
ministers from the three countries, and expressed hope that
the initiative would invigorate the ongoing Tripartite peace
process (in the Eastern DRC). Nzabamwita noted that the
involvement of new stakeholders on both sides of the border
united for a neutral issue could un-block the Tripartite
process which he asserted was at a "dead end." The Director
General told A/S McMurray that civil society (including the
NGO's participating in the conference) were the best
organized and most effective lobby in the Eastern Congo, and
that the issue of protection of the Virunga National Park
could attract new international interest and energize support
from UN organization such as UNESCO, UNEP and MONUC. The
Rwandan officials were acutely aware of the parks, economic
value, calling it their country's "gold mine," and were
greatly concerned by the "spill-over" effects from the
ongoing armed conflict in the DRC. Rwandan Secretary General
of the Ministry of Finance, John Rwangombwa stated "anyone

KIGALI 00000499 003 OF 003


who wants to think of investing in Rwanda also thinks of
instability in the Congo."

9. (SBU) COMMENT: The conference outlined key challenges
facing Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC in preserving the Greater
Virunga Landscape, recognized the overriding economic value
of the region for tourism and identified cooperative
strategies for the governments to address these challenges.
While the Ministerial Declaration, signed by ministers from
all three countries, represented a significant step forward
by forcefully calling on militant groups to leave park areas
in the DRC, it is uncertain whether this will be just one
more plea for peace or a more decisive move towards greater
involvement by the international community in the peace
process. What is clear from the conference is that
environmental and wildlife protection in DRC is unlikely to
succeed while armed groups continue to inhabit the Virunga
National Park.
SIM

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