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News • January 25 2004

Blank shots for hunters on libel warpath against BirdLife Malta

Matthew Vella

Legal experts speaking to MaltaToday said the Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FKNK) were bound to have no grounds to institute legal proceedings for libel and slander against BirdLife Malta and all media sources that published the bird conservation society’s claims that two spoonbills were shot and killed at the Ghadira nature reserve.
In a letter to EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström, FKNK president Lino Farrugia accused BirdLife of "unfounded accusations," claiming no proof has been forthcoming as to whether the spoonbills were actually killed. "No one has been apprehended, and if this report is all true, it remains unclear whether the culprits are indeed licensed hunters," Farrugia wrote.
BirdLife President Joe Mangion believes there is little ground for the FKNK to take legal action against the conservation society. He refutes the allegations that BirdLife invented the supposed killing of the spoonbills:
"BirdLife does not need the death of two spoonbills to highlight its concern at the hunting situation in Malta. We don’t need to make up these things. But we are duty bound to highlight these incidents that’s our role. I don’t know on what grounds the hunting lobby can sue us for libel. We never made accusations against the federation. I am not
In spite of everything, both hunters and conservationists are fighting a battle of allegations. The blood-stained feathers, also found on the protective barbed wire at the Ghadira nature reserve, have been repudiated by the hunters’ federation as a fabricated ploy. According to BirdLife, hunters went down the reserve on a motorcycle, cut through the reserve’s boundary fence and used a wooden plank to cross a ditch. The protected birds had been present at the Ghadira Nature Reserve for six consecutive days.
Labour MP and hunter Adrian Vassallo joined the fray in Parliament earlier this week claiming the version of events given by BirdLife had not been proved, and that he personally did not believe the birds had been killed. He said hunters were once again being framed, doubting the veracity of BirdLife’s stories.
In comments to MaltaToday, Joe Mangion said the society was not concerned about doubts on the alleged killing: "These are the same people who claim illegal hunting does not happen in Malta."
The FKNK poured scorn over the English-language press which "persist in publishing letters and articles" against hunting, and hit out at bird protection organisation Proact, led by David Conlin, and former hunter turned conservationist David Camilleri, who Farrugia said was heading the anti-hunting campaign in Malta.
"Proact’s campaign are never supported by strong, scientific and sound arguments and most of their ‘anti’ propaganda is false and emotional. David Conlin is of the opinion that Malta in the EU, and any other member state that forms part of the EU, have now lost sovereignty, and that this gives him, what he terms as ‘his duty’ as a European, to meddle in these countries’ internal politics."


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