Environmentalists have welcomed the decision by DR Congo’s Environment Ministry to suspend any exploration work by Soco and partner Dominion Petroleum on Block 5, which encompasses part of the Virunga National Park, a Unesco world heritage site.

Congolese law forbids oil exploration inside the park, which is home to 200 of the world's nearly 700 remaining mountain gorillas and contains more species of mammals, reptiles and birds than any other protected area in Africa.

"We have rejected the recommendations of an environmental impact assessment conducted by the oil company Soco, which we consider premature, superficial and which does not conform to the standards which we would expect," said DR Congo's Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation & Tourism, Jose Endundo.

Soco