In a renewed flurry of fighting in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the army of rebel leader Laurent Nkunda has seized the important Congolese army camp of Rumangabo on the border with Virunga National Park, leading to the evacuation of rangers who protect the gorillas.
This latest flare up of tensions between the two factions has led to chaos in the local communities as well, with more than 100,000 people reported to have fled the area. The Rumangabo post is a mere four kilometers from Virunga National Park headquarters. IGCP is now providing emergency assistance to help park rangers, guides, administrative staff and their families evacuate the area and move to the Congolese border town of Goma, 40 kilometers to the south. Virunga National Park, together with Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, is home to more than 380 of a total population of only 720 of the highly endangered mountain gorilla.
“This new displacement of park staff from the headquarters of the Park in Rumangabo will certainly worsen their precarious situation,” concluded IGCP Director Eugene Rutagarama. “IGCP is anxious also that some of the gorillas they have been monitoring have been put at risk.” IGCP staff in the area continues to monitor the situation, while calling on emergency funding to ensure as many displaced Park staff as possible are evacuated to safety.
The recent violence continues a long simmering conflict that includes Nkunda’s rebels, the National Congress for the People’s Defense (CNDP), the armed forces of the DRC (FARDC) and militias formed mainly by Rwandan rebels (FDLR) who fled to the Congo after the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Nkunda’s CNDP controls the Mikeno sector of the National Park, where the gorillas on the Congolese side of the Virunga Volcano Massif, which also runs through Rwanda and Uganda, are found.