Six Rangers Killed In DR Congo’s Virunga National Park


Six Rangers Killed In DR Congo’s Virunga National Park

Six park rangers have been killed after an attack at the famous Virunga National Park in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Officials have blamed the attack on a militia group known as Mai-Mai, one of many that operate in the region.

The rangers were ambushed while on foot patrol inside the park, a spokesperson told the BBC.

Staff working in the park, which is home to endangered mountain gorillas, have often come under attack.

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In April last year 13 rangers were killed in a rebel ambush.

Several armed groups operate in the restive eastern region of DR Congo where Virunga National Park – a Unesco World Heritage site – is based.

A statement from the park said preliminary investigations suggested the rangers “were taken by surprise and had no opportunity to defend themselves” during the Sunday morning attack.

It said another ranger who was seriously injured in the attack was receiving treatment and expected to make a full recovery,

A local government delegate Alphonse Kambale told AFP news agency that two Mai-Mai militants had also been killed.

The attack has forced the park’s boss – Belgian prince Emmanuel de Merode – to announce a suspension of tourism.

This will be another setback to efforts to earn much-needed income to protect the World Heritage Site from the lawlessness that has gripped the region since the fall of long-serving ruler Mobutu Sese Seko more than two decades ago.

How dangerous is Virunga?

Boasting Africa’s most diverse wildlife, Virunga – which stretches across 7,800 sq km (3,000 sq miles) – is one of the most dangerous parks on the continent.

The extent of the threat is reflected by the fact that between 1,500 and 2,000 armed fighters – according to Mr De Merode – roam Virunga and its surrounding areas.

They belong to numerous different rebel groups, who battle for control of the region’s rich resources.

They fish illegally, slaughter its animals, fell its trees – and kill, rape and abduct locals and foreigners alike.

“The trafficking of natural resources last year was estimated to be worth more than $170m (£125m), of which these militia groups are draining about $47m. This is the scale of what the rangers are up against,” Mr De Merode told the BBC’s Newsday programme.

The lawlessness in the park is linked to DR Congo sliding into chaos as the Mobutu regime lost his grip on power, before he was finally toppled in 1997.

“Virunga suffered terribly. Poaching depleted the park’s large mammal populations, infrastructure was destroyed, and many rangers were killed. The Congolese Wildlife Authority slowly lost control of Virunga and Unesco changed the World Heritage Site status to “endangered,” the park says on its website.

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“Over the 25 years that followed, the park staff endured an almost uninterrupted series of trials that included a refugee crisis from the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which contributed to the severe destruction of park forests, and the proliferation of armed militias throughout the park… By the end of 2008 it seemed as if Virunga was finished,” it adds.

Six Rangers Killed In DR Congo’s Virunga National Park


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