Joint press statement – Din l-Art Helwa and Birdlife Malta

14 April 2009

This morning at around 6 am Foresta 2000 ranger Ray Vella was shot on the head and his right ear by an aggressor wielding a shotgun at the Foresta 2000 afforestation site in Mellieha.

Mr Vella arrived at the west end of the Foresta 2000 afforestation site at around 6 am and 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. It was dawn and the lights of his jeep were on when he was inspecting the gate and the broken padlock.” said Joseph Mangion, BirdLife Malta President during a press conference organized at the Din l-Art Helwa office in Valletta.

An ALE patrol unit arrived at the site shortly after the shooting. Mr Vella was taken to the Mater Dei hospital by an ambulance and treated by the Accident and Emergency ward. Fortunately Mr Vella only had an injury on his right ear and bruising to his head.

Martin Galea, Din l-Art Helwa president said “It is despicable this cowardly criminal element have 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 a similar incident on the 1st of September 2007 Mr Vella, while tending to his field, was shot in the face by a hunter who then swore at Mr Vella and cursed BirdLife before fleeing away. On 1 June 2008, Mr Vella’s family farm was set on fire, olive trees were uprooted, and oil was poured down his freshwater well. Mr 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.” continued Mr Mangion. “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. Ray Vella has been the Ranger of the project site since 2004.