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Security Zone in Pungesti Heavily Criticized by European Greens

photo: Greenpeace Romania
photo: Greenpeace Romania

Following violent conflicts between riot police and locals in opposition of Chevron Romania’s shale operations and the subsequent creation of a security zone, Pungesti is now peaceful though the situation is far from solved.

This special security zone that restricts the right to travel for people in the area and environmental activists was enforced by court order. Despite several protests and appeals in the courts made by human rights organizations and citizens from the area who challenged the order in their own name, the zone was not canceled.

According to police officials, the special security zone will be maintained as long as there is conflict in the area that poses a threat to Chevron’s operations.

European greens support the position of protesters: “The European Green Party (EGP) strongly supports the small community of Pungesti, Romania – a village under siege after a violent intervention of Riot Police Forces allegedly at the request of Chevron.”

NGOs are against the restriction of travel rights, measures they feel belong in a totalitarian state.

Alexandru Riza, campaign coordinator for Greenpeace CEE Romania: “this is just another abuse of the Romanian riot police, against democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of press and raises questions about the democracy we are living in.”

George Epurescu of Romania without Them feels tha“establishing the security zone represents the enforcement of the occupation of the United States, occupation that is not done by their own military forces but by using local military forces, the riot police. The riot police is paid from the state’s budget, it does not deal with crimes, is not paid by Chevron and is terrorizing a community that has followed all democratic ways to defend its rights and its future. The locals wanted a local referendum, the most advanced form of expressing their opinion. The Prefecture blocked the decision of the local council and the citizens’ petition signed by 40% of the inhabitants of the village. They are trying to delay by use of threats and bribery, to distract the attention from the most serious situation since the miners’ movements.”

Environmental activist Georgeta Ionescu has a more nuanced point of view: “Even working to meet their daily needs seems to be difficult right now, and children were restricted in going to school some days. Media access was restricted when riot police intervened with force. Both central and local authorities denied any dialog with local community about a project that did not gain social acceptability.”

Commenting on the incident Reinhard Bütikofer, Co-Chair of EGP said, “The fundamental right to peaceful protests must be protected across the EU. If these allegations prove to be true we condemn the abusive intervention that follows two months of harassment and intimidation of the local community in the strongest possible terms.”

According to Bütikofer, “The extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is environmentally catastrophic. Pungesti is one of the poorest counties in Romania and people heavily depend on nature for a living. Villagers are rightly afraid of environmental and health impacts of the technology proven to contaminate water soil and air. The European Greens firmly support local communities who are standing up for their rights and protecting their local environment against economic interests. We stand in solidarity with the upcoming peaceful protest planned for this weekend in Pungesti.”

The exploitation of natural resources with regard to the environment is present in statements from European greens and Greenpeace. Shale gas and the mining project in Rosia Montana have led to massive protests in the last months. “Both are related to the issue of the exploitation of natural underground resources and to the fact that, in case the exploitation will be done as currently proposed, it presents a high risk of environmental disasters,” said Riza.

Reinhard Bütikofer also called on Prime Minister Victor Ponta to listen to polls clearly stating that Romanians don’t want their national resources exploited and destroyed for economic gain – “Europe stands for respecting the rights of nature, liberty and human rights and governments must be held to this standard no matter what.”

The request to lift the travel restrictions in Silistea and Pungesti was rejected by the Vaslui Court and the motivation of the decision is expected.

“By this complaint I have requested the immediate withdrawal of riot police because they are interfering with the right to free travel and with the ownership right of the citizens from Silistrea. For this I have filed a finding made with a legal executor. I have found that the right to free travel of the citizens is restricted,” said plaintiff Simone Lucie Nicolescot for Mediafax.

In order to avoid such situations, Chevron Romania representatives began a vast information campaign in Bacesti village, Vaslui County, where the company has another leased perimeter for which it obtained the environmental permit for shale gas exploration. Exploration works there are expected there for March. Chevron representatives have distributed backpacks with school supplies, sweets and “courtesy” letters to 600 pupils from the schools in the village.

The letter to the pupils says that “Chevron has always been a supporter of education” and the company is pleased to “help with daily school activities.”

The spokesman for Chevron Romania, Razvan Mitroi, said that the backpacks contained school supplies and sweets for 600 pupils and that this action “cannot be treated as propaganda for shale gas.”

Chevron has stated in a press release that it desires to have constructive relationships with the communities where it operates.

Silviu Molnar

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