In the eastern DRC, park
rangers have completed an offensive against illegal charcoal-making operations
run by armed militias.
armed groups include the Hutu FDLR, which is accused of attacking and looting
villages and killing civilians. But
members of the FDLR also took part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide before fleeing
into what was then Zaire.
Congolese National Park authorities say the raids have struck charcoal kiln
sites deep within the forests of the Virunga National Park, which generates
millions of dollars annually.
Director Emmanuel de Merode says
there were several reasons for the crackdown.
that they're extremely destructive to the forests of the national park. And these forests are extremely important to
a number of species, including the mountain gorillas. And it's the last population of mountain
gorillas in Congo," he says.
Militias making money
UN Group of Experts on the DRC issued a report on the financial aspects of the
charcoal trafficking…is an extremely lucrative business. It has an annual turnover of over $30
million. And much of those revenues are
going to the armed groups. And these
armed groups are responsible for the instability in the eastern Congo, which
has been an extremely serious problem for over 15 years," he says.
estimated five million civilians died in the conflict during that time.
Small but effective
Merode says as far as military-type offenses go, the operation was relatively
only involved five platoons of 30 rangers.
That's 150 rangers altogether.
But it was very well supported.
It was planned over a long period of time and so it was relatively
effective," he says.
250 charcoal kilns, worth about $360,000, were destroyed; and there were 57
arrests, including one militia officer.
"It's the biggest operation we've ever led," says De Merode.
Killed in the line of duty
rangers and militia members have clashed on several occasions over recent
part of this operation there were three armed contacts in the forest between
these militias and our rangers. There
was also a retaliatory attack on our patrol post on the edge of the park where
the FDLR burned down part of the patrol post," he says.
the last 10 years, some 130 park rangers have been killed while cracking down
on poachers, illegal miners and rebels.
is Africa's oldest national park, established in 1925.
Many thousands of animals killed
"It's also the park that has the
highest number of species of birds, mammals and reptiles for any park in
Africa. It's very well known…that it has
three types of great apes – the mountain gorillas…lowland gorillas and
chimpanzees," he says.
and elephant populations have been decimated by armed groups and poachers.
hippo population …used to be the most important hippo population in the world –
over 30,000 hippos in the park. Now
there are less than 300. Likewise for
the elephant populations," he says.
the tide is turning in favor of the rangers.
"Now, slowly, slowly, they're
beginning to gain ground, particularly on the armed groups, who are in the
park," he says.