by Staff Writers
Kinshasa (AFP) Oct 26, 2012
Eight people, including two rangers, a soldier and five militiamen were killed in a militia attack near Lake Edward in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga national park, park authorities said Friday.
A soldier who was helping the park rangers was killed and three others were wounded, one seriously, in the attack on Thursday in the northeast of the country.
The clash also claimed the lives of five rebels from the Mai Mai Pareco group, while two were wounded and one was captured.
The wounded rebels were under guard at the hospital in Vitshumbi, a statement from the park management said. Both the park rangers, who worked for the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature, were killed instantly.
The Virunga park, which is famous for its rare mountain gorillas, has become the scene of fighting between soldiers and armed groups, such as the Mai Mai tribal militia, which are among many rival forces active in eastern DR Congo.
The army is pitted against both local and foreign armed groups in Nord-Kivu province, where the park lies on the border with Rwanda and Uganda, and rebel forces have gained ground since President Joseph Kabila in April suspended military operations in both Nord-Kivu and Sud-Kivu provinces following a wave of desertions.
One group of mutineers, originally part of a rebel force that was integrated into the army in 2009, in May formed the March 23 Movement (M23), which has set up certain positions in the Virunga park.
The park's chief warden, Emmanuel de Merode, said after the attack that "the civil war has brought an influx of militias into the park, intent on poaching and attacking the local population.
"This is putting overwhelming pressure on our small team of rangers whose duty it is to protect the wildlife and the people living in and around the park. Once again, we are deeply shocked and saddened by the deaths of our colleagues."
More than 130 rangers in the Virunga park have lost their lives while on duty since 1996.
Created in the former Belgian colony in 1925 and named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the park also has a population of plains gorillas, which is threatened with extinction.
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