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DRC Park Ranger Escapes Rebel Abduction


In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a park ranger is home safe after escaping from a rebel group that held him captive for two years. Kari Barber has more from our West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

The ranger, Jean-Marie Cizungu Kazingufu, was kidnapped in 2005 from his post at the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in eastern DRC. Last week he emerged from the forest, battered and exhausted after an eight-day escape on foot.

Samantha Newport works with WildlifeDirect, an organization that helps rangers in the DRC. She says Kazingufu made a break for freedom when he became convinced he would be killed.

"Just recently, last week, he managed to make a daring escape following an opportunity where he was brutally beaten and he believed he was going to be killed," she said. "He made a desperate run for it. After eight days of roaming the forest he came across a roadblock where he was able to negotiate his freedom."

Newport says while in captivity Kazingufu was forced to work as a secretary for a rebel group because he speaks both French and Swahili. She says the rebels abused and tortured him.

"He is now back at home with his wife, but he is going to be going back to work," she added. "He is very keen to be going back to his work."

However, she says the recovery from his injuries will be slow.

Newport says there has been a history of rebel attacks on rangers in the park, which is in the Kivu Region of the DRC, near Lake Kivu and the Rwandan border.

"They are very much targeted by rebel groups operating in the area, because they are seen as an obstacle to what rebel groups want to achieve," she explained. "So they [rangers] are really incredibly brave and incredibly dedicated."

Another ranger was injured in a shooting earlier this week by unidentified armed men in the forest.

Newport says rebel groups target forest rangers because they try to prevent them from poaching. The Kahuzi-Biega National Park is home to much wildlife, including elephants, rhinos, and the rare mountain gorrilla.

Though Kazingufu identified his attackers as Mai Mai rebels, DRC analyst Mbwebwe Kapamba says it is difficult to say who is responsible for the attacks on rangers. He says Mai Mai are a diverse group who were active during the DRC's civil war, and some remain active today.

"Some of them are siding with the government, the power in Kinshasa, some of them are against. It is difficult to say that it is a homogeneous group," he noted.

Kampamba says there is little government control in the area and bandits in the area often claim to be part of a larger rebel movements.

In the past decade more than 100 rangers have been killed in the DRC. Poachers in the area have recently started using automatic weapons to hunt legally protected animals for their meat, tusks and teeth.

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