By Ryan Aliman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo – Rebels have killed two park rangers and a soldier in an attack at the Democratic Republic of Congo’s famous Virunga National Park last Friday.
The attack, which took place at Mwiga Bay near the park’s Lake Edward, also claimed the lives of five rebels.
A statement from the park management reported that three soldiers and two rebels were wounded during the conflict. The injured rebels were taken into custody and confined in a hospital in Vitshumbi, the statement added.
The Virunga park, which employs park rangers from the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature, has seen a dramatic increase in the presence of armed militias since the civil war outbreak in May this year. These rebel forces, including the “March 23 Movement” (M23), decided to set up their own bases in the park. This has led to a growing number of fighting between rebel groups and the army in the area. As a result, park staff have usually been caught in the crossfire and have been vulnerable to assaults from militia men. Reports show that the number of park rangers has decreased from 1,000 to 271.
According to the park’s chief warden, Emmanuel de Merode, “the civil war has brought an influx of militias into the park, intent on poaching and attacking the local population. This is bringing overwhelming pressures on our small team of rangers whose duty it is to protect the wildlife and the people living in and around the park. Once again, we are deeply shocked and saddened by the deaths of our colleagues.”
To protect the park staff, the government has deployed 200 soldiers, including 48 recruits trained by retired Belgian Special Forces, into Virunga.
The spokesperson for the Congolese Army, Col. Hamuli, speculated that Friday’s attack may have been perpetrated mainly by M23 “to destabilize [the army’s] positions from the inside of the territory [and] to show that Rwanda and Uganda are not supporting them. He also suggested that seizing parts of Virunga park may be a ploy of the M23 to “take back their traditional fiefdom in Masisi.”
The United Nations Security Council has issued a statement condemning the Friday attack.The Security Council also condemned “any attempts by the M23 to establish a parallel administration and to undermine State authority.”
The Virunga National Park, largely known for its endangered mountain gorillas, was created under Belgian rule in 1925 and named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
For further information, please see:
AFP – Eight killed in attack at DR Congo wildlife reserve – 27 October 2012
Wildlife Extra – Rebel attack on Virunga National Park ranger patrol kills three in DR Congo – 27 October 2012
BBC News – Virunga National Park: DR Congo rangers killed – 26 October 2012
Environment News Service – Eight Dead in Attack on Virunga National Park Rangers – 25 October 2012
The Washington Post – Congo M23 rebels attack army in North Kivu province to gain more territory; army pushes back – 19 October 2012
Huffington Post – Africa’s oldest park threatened by rebels, now oil – 5 October 2012
Global Animal – Virunga National Park Loses Defense In Congo War – 17 September 2012