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Siege Shuts Down Park; Threatens Galapagos Wildlife

WASHINGTON - World Wildlife Fund called on the Ecuadorian government Thursday to end a week-long siege of the national park and a scientific research facility on the Galapagos Islands peacefully -- but without weakening existing environmental rules critical to both the ecological survival of the archipelago and the long-term health of its local fishing industry.

The current unrest on the islands that gave Charles Darwin his insights into evolution began last Thursday, when militant fishermen seized the offices of the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Research Station. The demonstration escalated this week when, with no opposition from local authorities, the protestors barricaded entrances to the park, blocked roads and burned tires to dramatize their demands for the lifting of regulations meant to protect the islands' many endangered and endemic species.

As the crisis entered its second week, Guillermo Castilleja, WWF's vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean, issued the following statement:

"WWF calls upon the President of Ecuador to intervene without delay to prevent the situation from deteriorating any further. The concerns of the protesters' must be addressed-- but through existing legal mechanisms established under the Special Law for the Galapagos and in ways that do not undermine either the long-term livelihoods of the fishermen or the ecological and overall economic health of the islands.

"It is especially important that authorities do not overreact by rescinding or weakening critical environmental regulations without which the Galapagos' outstanding wildlife as well as its fishing and tourism industries -- and the people who depend upon them -- would all be jeopardized.

"The refusal of local authorities to respond to the crisis threatens both the park's outstanding wildlife and the well-being of the scientists and researchers living there. There is still time to resolve this crisis peacefully, through a dialogue that takes the protesters' concerns into account. But continued inaction or worse, capitulation, would spell a tragedy for both the people and wildlife sharing the world-class natural treasure that is the Galapagos."