On April 24, 12 Virunga National Park rangers were killed by Force Démocratique pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) a Rwandan rebel group operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to a statement released by the park and posted to their website, the rangers were on their way back to park headquarters when they encountered a civilian vehicle that had been freshly attacked. While trying to rescue the civilians, the rangers were surprised by gunfire from the FDLR. In addition to the 12 fallen rangers, a driver and four other civilians were killed, according to Mongabay News.
The attack occurred in Rumangabo, the headquarter town of Virunga National Park, located in Eastern Congo, and it shines a spotlight on the vulnerability of the rangers, hundreds of whom have been killed in attacks by rebel groups operating in the area. The New York Times reported that Belgian conservationist Dr. Emmanuel de Merode, Director of the Park, was shot in 2014 – and survived. His aggressors are unknown, however de Merode was known to have a long list of enemies who could have tried to end his life. The rebels reportedly are interested in the park’s oil and other natural resources.
The 3,000-sq. mi. park lies in an area known for its biodiversity. The park is home to mountain gorillas and elephants and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With some species in the park listed as endangered by the international Union for Conservation of Nature – and in a climate of insecurity caused by the absence of government forces in the area – the park relies on its well-trained rangers, who are thought by many to bring armed groups like FDLR under control better than public security forces.
The FDLR have been in Congo since fleeing Rwanda in 1994. The Rwandan government accuses them of having committed genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. The U.S. government classifies FDLR as a terrorist organization.
Africa News Editor Jean Damascene Hakuzimana worked in a program that oversaw parks in DRC, among them Virunga National Park in 2011 and 2012.