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Environmentalist murdered near disputed DRC palm oil project
Author: Illegal Deforestation Monitor, UK, Published on: 29 July 2019
The actions of Feronia-PHC are under intense scrutiny again after a local environmental activist in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was killed reportedly by a security guard working for the palm oil giant...Joël Imbangola Lunea was killed...allegedly by a local Feronia-PHC employee who accused him of transporting palm oil stolen from its nearby plantation. Lunea worked for RIAO-RDC, a Congolese environmental and human rights group that has long protested the Canadian company’s presence and the impact its projects have on communities...The NGO alleges that the security guard then violently attacked the father of five and killed him by strangling. “RIAO-RDC holds Feronia Inc to be responsible for Mr. Joël’s murder,” director Jean-Frallancois Mombia Atuku said. “Feronia has taken insufficient action over the years to prevent its security guards from harassing local community people over unsubstantiated claims of stealing palm fruits or palm oil.
...a Feronia spokesperson said: “The Company is deeply saddened to learn that one of its employees is being sought by the police in relation to the death of Mr Joël Imbangola Lunea on Sunday 21 July 2019. Police are treating Mr Lunea’s death as murder. “There are different versions of events being reported and we are attempting to gather the facts of what happened. A number of witnesses have informed the Company that the disagreement which lead to the tragic incident was of a personal nature but, with the incident occurring approximately 18 km from Feronia’s plantation, near the employee’s home village, whilst he was on four weeks annual leave, establishing facts is proving difficult.”...
A 13,000-hectare plantation, Boteka is one of three Feronia palm oil projects in DRC, which total 100,000 hectares...The company gained control of the plantations in 2008 when it acquired Unilever’s subsidiary Plantations and Huileries du Congo (PHC). Local villagers have denounced displacement and occupation of their lands since colonial times and throughout Unilever and Feronia’s tenure of the concessions. Clashes between Feronia-PHC and locals have been widely reported. In March 2019, Congolese military reportedly fired live bullets at protestors in two villages within Feronia’s Lokutu concession...
The NGO claims that staff are ‘facing increased intimidation’ from Feronia security guards and have accused the organisation of being ‘an agent for foreign interests’...“Despite our denunciations on all levels – with regards forced labor, meager wages, lack of ethics, slander and defamation against our organization, the behaviors [of Feronia] continue and [international donors] continue to finance them,” he said...“We know that if Feronia continues to kill us, it’s because of the international donors. If they had serious audit systems in place, the events denounced by RIAO-DRC and international partners would have been discovered long ago by these financiers and Joel and others would not have died.”