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Wiebo Ludwig makes peace plea

His name has hung like a spectre over the natural-gas explosions that have rocked northeastern British Columbia's Peace River country.

Now Wiebo Ludwig, arguably Canada's most notorious eco-warrior, says the violence must end. In an open letter that one expert called "extraordinary" and likely to end the bombings, the man who served time in jail for similar crimes urges the bomber to "give peace (another) chance."

"I have felt your rage," Mr. Ludwig, 67, writes in the letter, which he sent to The Canadian Press and which he hopes news organizations around Dawson Creek, B.C., will print in full. A series of six bombings of pipelines and other facilities owned by EnCana Corp. in the region, nearly 600 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, has sparked a major RCMP response and allegations of domestic terrorism. It has also rekindled worried memories of the violence that surrounded Mr. Ludwig's own furious campaign against the energy industry a decade ago.

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But, he says in the letter, "I want to encourage you not to let anger ... get the best of you and to realize that these conflicts cannot ultimately be settled by use of force but by way of informed and patient persuasion."

Mr. Ludwig, who once said that, "sometimes to reflect verbal perseverance, some force has to be exercised," was sent to prison in 2001 on five charges, including one related to the bombing of an oil facility owned by Canadian energy giant Suncor. His 28-month sentence - he was paroled after 18 - followed a very public battle against an EnCana predecessor company operating around his 325-hectare Trickle Creek farm, which is located in Alberta a short drive from Dawson Creek.

He has since denied that he was responsible for the actions for which he was convicted. But Mr. Ludwig acknowledged in an interview yesterday that the sabotage of energy infrastructure around his farm in the late 1990s could have helped inspire the latest round of bombings, which began last October.

The RCMP have said Mr. Ludwig is not a suspect - and he, in fact, offered his services to police late last year. He told agents he was willing to push the bomber to stop by engaging "in some persuasive discussions - without necessarily knowing who it is - through other people."

He retracted his offer when the RCMP refused to let him to do so without a police shadow, a condition he declined for fear of inflicting harsh questioning on those he spoke with. He wrote his letter, he said, in hopes the weight of his own experience will persuade the bomber to halt.

But though some believe the letter will show the extent to which even those sympathetic to the cause condemn the violence, many are skeptical it will accomplish much.

"This person is already so angry that nothing anybody says is going to carry weight with him," said Iva Tuttle, an anti-industry activist who lives near Dawson Creek. "There's no compromise anywhere in any of his letters. It's all or nothing, and that scares the hell out of me."

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The blasts have stopped since an anonymous letter sent July 15 offered a three-month truce in exchange for a commitment by EnCana to retreat from the area. That hasn't happened, and those in the area have looked to the Thanksgiving weekend in mid-October - around when the truce expires - with increasingly fearful eyes.

"I'm wondering if I shouldn't get out of here," Ms. Tuttle said.

But the letter may prove persuasive, said Andrew Nikiforuk, a Calgary journalist who spent three years researching and writing the book Saboteurs: Wiebo Ludwig's War Against Big Oil. Reading Mr. Ludwig's words, he was struck by the intimate and "fatherly" tone.

"It's the kind of profound, yet jocular, letter a father might write to an idealistic relative or close friend," Mr. Nikiforuk said. "It is an extraordinary appeal. I suspect it will likely bring an end to this bombing campaign."

Though Mr. Ludwig himself has said his "explosive rhetoric" may have encouraged family members to get involved in past sabotage, he said he does not know who is behind the recent bombings. He declined comment on whether it could be someone related to him.

"People are going to conjecture a lot," he said. "I'm not here to help people guess. I don't know who it is, except that I know industry is, of course, the cause of all this."

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EnCana declined to comment.

In his letter, Mr. Ludwig calls the bombings illegal, but commends the bomber for exercising "thoughtful restraint." Mr. Ludwig counsels patience for whomever is responsible, but congratulates the bomber for almost single-handedly stirring up discussion over the conflicts between land owners and energy companies, whose large-scale pursuit of natural gas in the Peace River area has stirred deep emotion.

You "need to know that you have already set a lot of good things in motion," Mr. Ludwig wrote. "You've truly woken a lot of people up and stimulated some very valuable discussion."

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About the Author
Asia Bureau Chief

Nathan VanderKlippe is the Asia correspondent for The Globe and Mail. He was previously a print and television correspondent in Western Canada based in Calgary, Vancouver and Yellowknife, where he covered the energy industry, aboriginal issues and Canada’s north.He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award and a Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. More

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