Urgent: IMMINENT ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER IN GEORGIA

To: Carter Roberts, President and CEO, World Wildlife Fund; Monique Barbut, CEO and Chairperson, Global Enviromnent Facility; Peter A. Seligmann, Chairman of the board and CEO, Conservation International; Richard N. Goldman, President, Richard and Rhoda Goldman Environmental Fund; Gerd Leipold, Executive Director, Greenpeace International; Valli Moosa, President, International Union for Conservation of Nature; Allison Chin, President, Sierra Club Since August 15, 2008, wildfires have been raging in one of Europe\'s largest National Parks - Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park in Georgia, about 125 km south-west of the capital city of Tbilisi. As of August 17, at least 200 hectares have been burned down. The fires are grave threat to biodiversity in the area recognized by the Conservancy International as one of the 25 biodiversity \"hot spots\" on the Earth (http://www.biodiversityhotspots.org/xp/hotspots/caucasus/Pages/default.aspx ). Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park (http://www.borjomi-kharagauli-np.ge), inaugurated in 2001 and established with support of international partners including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the German Government, has the biggest coniferous forest in the Caucasus and is home to a large number of unique and rare animal and plant species, including chamois, bears and the Caucasus red deer. The Park is the source of renowned Borjomi mineral water, one of the major exports of Georgia. The area also has multiple ancient villages and churches, which along with pristine nature, make it a favorite retreat for tourists. According to Georgian Government and eyewitness reports, the fires started on August 15 in multiple sites immediately after Russian helicopters flew over the forested areas of the scenic Borjomi Gorge, suggesting use of some incendiary weapons. Incendiary weapons, defined as \"any weapon or munition which is primarily designed to set fire to objects or to cause burn injury to persons through the action of flame, heat, or combination thereof\"(Article 1, United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, Protocol III. Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons. Geneva, 10 October 1980; http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/policy/int/convention_conventional-wpns_prot-iii.htm) , are prohibited by Protocol III of the above convention, to which Russia is a signatory party. Desperate efforts from the local and central authorities to control the fire so far have not succeeded. Resources of local emergency services are clearly insufficient and the Central Government of Georgia is unable to send necessary equipment because of the Russian occupation of the large parts of the country including the major East-West highway. For the same reason, central Government has been unable to use the aircraft to fight the fires. In response to Georgian Government\'s appeal for assistance to neighboring countries, Turkey and Ukraine expressed their readiness to provide help but as of August 17, have not been given safe passage by the Russian occupying forces. The situation is deteriorating rapidly and has the potential of large-scale environmental disaster. Immediate action is required to control the fire. - We are requesting the Russian occupying forces in Georgia to immediately open the safe corridor on the land and in the air, to enable the help from the central Georgian government, as well as from Turkey and Ukraine and/or any other willing to help nation reach the affected area. - We are calling for every citizen of the world who is concerned about our planet\'s environment, and every environmental organization in the United States and throughout the world to join this request and help us stop the imminent environmental disaster. - And finally, we are calling for a thorough independent investigation involving international experts to clarify the circumstances of emergence of these fires and to take appropriate legal actions if the use of incendiary weapons by Russian forces is confirmed. Sincerely, Undersigned

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