Following months of protests against the removal of up to 10,000 ancient olive trees to make way for the controversial Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), residents in the Puglian town of Melendugno woke up on November 13th to find their town in lockdown after police implemented a “red zone” overnight.
Nobody has access to this zone. People living there are completely isolated.
Streets and olive farms had been cordoned off with barbed-wire fences and concrete barriers and land owners within the red zone found they were required to obtain special permits to enter while everyone else was prohibited. Security patrols were brought in to control the area and allegedly refused access to laborers, needed to harvest the olives within the zone.
Using a law which dates back to 1931, “Ordinance Decreto Regio (Royal Decree) No 773,” officials in Lecce placed the area surrounding the TAP construction site under police control. Some of Melendugno’s residents were expelled and they may be denied access to the area for up to three years. Damage to properties sustained during the encroachment had also been reported.
Local resident, Sabina Giese told the Olive Oil Times, “We are stopped every time and asked for documents from the police. People living in the red zone have access to their homes with a special pass given by the police department but cannot host any friend or friends of their children in their homes. Nobody has access to this zone. People living there are completely isolated.”
Giese added, “Nobody can access the red-zone without the authorization of TAP, not even the journalists. They have to ask TAP to get into the zone and only TAP can ask the police for authorization. Once the journalists enter the zone, they are escorted like a group of tourists into the area while all work is suspended in the meantime.”
According to Giese locals are angry that taxpayers’ money is being spent on police protection for TAP personnel and vehicles, despite the consortium handing out payments of €10,000 each to over 140 residents in an attempt to halt the protests.
Lisa Givert, TAP’s Head of Communications told Olive Oil Times, “TAP cannot comment on matters pertaining to the jurisdiction of the Italian law enforcement agencies or other such competent authorities. We understand however that they have a responsibility to uphold law and order, and maintain a peaceful environment in which work can continue in a calm, safe and peaceful manner for all.”
Givert added, “Several people (TAP workers, etc.) had been attacked during the violent protests for moving the first batch of olive trees in the first half of 2017. Also, TAP and its contractors have been the target of several acts of vandalism. Protesters have also damaged the ancient stone walls, part of Puglia’s cultural and historical heritage and destroyed the nets protecting the olive trees against the spread of the Xylella fastidiosa bacterium.”
As new tensions mounted over the red zone, protests erupted once again and demonstrators against TAP threw eggs at police stationed outside a conference on energy and pipelines in Lecce on November 20th.
Work on the TAP was halted in April when The Lazio Regional Administrative Court (TAR) overturned the Italian government’s authorization to relocate the trees. In July, clashes between protesters and police over the removal of 42 trees including ‘monumental olive trees’ resulted in the trees’ removal being delayed until November when their six-month growth spurt was finished.
The €4.5 billion TAP pipeline which was approved in 2015 is the final leg of the Southern Gas Corridor that will transport Asian gas to Europe. The pipeline was given the go-ahead under the provision that olive trees along its route were transplanted while the work took place and eventually returned to their original sites.
TAP was scheduled to deliver its first gas to Italy by 2020 reducing the EU’s dependence on Russian energy.