Mai Mai militia in the Democratic
Republic of Congo have attacked a guard post in Congo’s Virunga National Park,
killing one ranger and wounding another.Thursday’s raid on the park station of Mulango ya Nyama close to Mount
Tshiaberimu took place near the home of an isolated population of 18 eastern
lowland gorillas, once amajor tourist
attraction in the upper end of the park. It is in an area further north of the North
Kivu province fighting that has involved rebel leader Laurent Nkunda’s CNDP
forces and the Congolese army, but is subject to periodic land grabs by the
marauding surrounding population. The park employs some 600 staff in
conservation work, and park director Emmanuel de Merode says that slain ranger Kakule Safari was a valiant
defender of the park’s endangered living treasures.
Safari was a good person, and he was a father.He had three children and a wife.He was a gentle person, and he was deeply dedicated to his work.He worked alone with gorillas for several
years.He was also a capable,
intelligent ranger.He had come up
through the ranks and was training as a para-veterinarian.And we really felt he had an important role
to play in the future of those gorillas,” said de Merode.
nighttime raid by Mai Mai was unexpected and targeted six rangers manning a
park watch station.De Merode says the
staff fought off the attackers courageously and took one of the band
prisoner.But in the process, he says
the defenders lost a valued colleague.
actually managed to capture one of the Mai Mai officers, who has been arrested
and is now detained in Butembo Prison.So it was extremely unexpected and extremely violent. They fought very
hard even though they were far outnumbered,” he noted.
vast Virunga reserve, which spans much of the length of the eastern DRC with
Rwanda and Uganda, has been subjected to an unrelenting disruption of its recreational
and educational tourism due to unpredictable flashpoints of aggression by a
broad mixture of armies, local militias, and rebel forces caught up in a
conflict that is being fueled by an unrestrained flow of weapons and money.Emmanuel de Merode’s official base of
operations is near the southern end of the park, near the city of Goma.But he says menacing situations have occurred
throughout the park, with the latest bloodshed transpiring further to the
been heavy fighting between government forces and CNDP, that’s Laurent Nkunda’s
rebels, but also heavy fighting between the CNDP and Mai Mai and SDLR (Rwandan
expatriate Hutu forces), so it’s a complicated picture.It was very intense fighting across much of
the park.The incident last week was
quite a long way further north,” he says.
security situation in the park has become so precarious that the park director
says his large staff of conservationists, park rangers, and their immediate
families have had to become IDPs – internally displaced persons.
“Most of our
activities have been badly unsettled by the fighting.We’ve got about half of all of our staff,
that’s over 300 people – over 15-hundred people, if you include their families
– currently in internally displaced camps in the park.So the situation’s extremely bad at the
moment,” he observed.
because of the official, government-backed nature of their work, the Congolese
Wildlife Authority park rangers and their families do not meet the same kind of
refugee status as other dislodged civilians in the country, who are entitled to
the limited government and NGO services and attention.De Merode, who also heads the international
Wildlife Direct conservation group, says his staff is bravely trying to live
through these particularly rough times.
“We’ve received some help.But on the one hand, we’ve had one problem,
which is that the national park authority are a law enforcement agency.And so often, we are not allowed to have aid
and the beneficiaries of humanitarian assistance.There’s a real problem there.We’ve received some support from the general
public, from conservation groups, but it’s quite limited,” he pointed out.