Funeral services were held Tuesday for three park rangers and five Congolese soldiers who were killed during a violent attack in the DRC’s Virunga National Park. Park officials say a rocket-propelled grenade hit a patrol vehicle when it drove into an ambush about one kilometer north of Mabenga, just inside the park border.
The rangers were deployed along a road that passes through the national park in an attempt to secure a safe passage for the public.
Officials believe the attackers, who escaped on foot, are members of the FDLR Rwanda militia, retaliating for the destruction of two of their camps by park rangers in December 2010.
“It was a very emotional ceremony this afternoon and all families and relatives were present. All rangers were also present to give last honors to their colleagues for their courage, “said Joel Wengamulay, communications director for Virunga National Park. “Our colleagues were buried at the park cemetery where all wardens and rangers in service are buried.”
Three other park rangers are still hospitalized with severe injuries.
It has not yet been confirmed that the attack was the work of the FDLR Rwandan militia. Wengamulay said the investigation is still ongoing.
“We don’t have any more information about the militia. Our investigation is going on and we hope to have more information in the next few hours, “he said.
Park rangers and regular army units have been working together to make the area safe. It is known to be heavily frequented by FDLR militia. Park officials say this is the worst attack on Virunga Park patrols in over a year.
Wengamulay said the attack, in addition to being retaliation, may be “a way to discourage the rangers’ work of attempting to secure a safe passage on a public road through the park.”