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NEWS | Wednesday, 15 April 2009

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BirdLife ranger targeted for second time in two years

Foresta 2000 ranger Ray Vella has suffered a second attack by a gun-wielding aggressor at the afforestation site he manages in Mellieha.
Vella was attacked at 6am yesterday morning when he was shot in the head and right ear by an aggressor with a shotgun. In 2007, he was shot by an aggressor while tending to his own field in Wied il-Mizieb. In both cases the shot contained lead pellets, which rarely causes life-threatening injuries but can easily blind the victim or result in infection.
Vella, a long-time member of BirdLife, has been the ranger of the Foresta 2000 site in Mellieha for the last four years, personally tending to the trees near the Red Tower, where 3,000 saplings were felled by vandals in May 2007. Yesterday, he had just arrived at the west end of the Foresta 2000 afforestation site when he found the gate of the project site forced open and the padlock broken. He got out of his jeep to shut the gate, leaving the engine running and the lights on.
At that point he was shot in the head and ear by an aggressor hidden in nearby trees.
“We believe that this is no accident and Ray was ambushed by someone who was waiting for him," BirdLife Malta president Joseph Mangion said during a press conference organized at the Din l-Art Helwa headquarters in Valletta.
"It was dawn and the lights of his jeep were on when he was inspecting the gate and the broken padlock.”

An Administrative Law Enforcement patrol unit arrived at the site shortly after the shooting. Vella was taken to the Mater Dei hospital by an ambulance and treated by the Accident and Emergency ward, where it was found he had only suffered an injury on his right ear and bruising to his head.
Martin Galea, Din l-Art Helwa president, said: “It is despicable that this cowardly, criminal element has targeted Ray for the fourth time. It is a testament to his courage and character that he has not been intimidated as is their aim. We call on the police to find the culprits, before the situation gets totally out of control.”
This is one of many attacks Foresta Ranger suffered over the last two years. In the similar incident of the 1 September 2007, Vella was shot in the face by a hunter who then swore at him and cursed BirdLife before fleeing away.
On 1 June 2008, Vella’s family farm was set on fire, olive trees were uprooted, and oil was poured down his freshwater well. Vella also suffered greatly when the Foresta 2000 project site that he cared for many years was targeted by vandals who uprooted and chopped down thousands of trees and shrubs in May 2007.
“Over the last two and a half years BirdLife Malta conservation sites, volunteers and staff have been seriously targeted over 20 times. In all these cases no one has been brought to justice,” Joseph Mangion said.
“This failure, therefore, protects the perpetrators of these crimes and gives them free rein to continue the abuse. We do not want to hear any more condemnations or promises that these criminals will be brought to justice but want to see results.”
Police informed BirdLife and Din l-Art Helwa that investigations were ongoing.
Foresta 2000 afforestation project is a partnership between Din l-Art Helwa, BirdLife Malta and PARKS department of the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs.
Alternattiva Demokratika expressed solidarity with ranger Ray Vella and BirdLife. AD Chairperson Arnold Cassola said: “Some people still cannot accept that there are people and organisations who work to preserve and take care of our natural heritage and that there are areas, of which there should be more, where priority is given to nature protection. We hope that those who resort to firearms and extreme violence are brought to justice as quickly as possible.”
In its reaction, the Labour Party condemned the “vile attack” and expressed its solidarity with Vella, his family and BirdLife. The PL appealed to the authorities to move forward with their investigations and take all necessary steps against the perpetrator of this attack.


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