We are alarmed with news reports that rebel forces have taken over the military base at Rumangabo. This has forced the ICCN to begin evacuating rangers from the Virunga National Park which is critical for their safety and survival, but will leave the gorillas and forests vulnerable.
According to AFP “The Democratic Republic of Congo’s envoy to the United Nations called on the Security Council to intervene to stop what he called an “imminent” Rwandan attack on the eastern DRC city of Goma.
Atoki Ileka told AFP that DRC authorities had “observed concentrations of Rwandan troops in the Rwandan border town of Gisenyi,” and that this suggested that an attack on Goma, located just across the frontier, was “imminent.”
Goma is the capital of Nord-Kivu province, which is at the center of renewed fighting between rebel and government forces that broke out August 28 in the east of the DRC.
“We have asked the Security Council to put the necessary pressure on Rwanda to prevent a new (Rwandan) aggression against DRC,” Ileka said, adding that troops in Rwandan uniforms had seized the Rumangabo military camp near Goma early Wednesday.”
Reuters have also just reported the invasion of Congo by Rwandan troops “Congo has accused neighboring Rwanda of sending troops across the border and fighting in support of a Congolese warlord. A Rwandan military spokesman denies the allegations.
North Kivu provincial Gov. Julien Mpaluku says Rwandan soldiers backing Congo warlord Laurent Nkunda crossed into Congo three days ago and headed for the frontier villages of Tshanzu and Bunagana. He said Wednesday that Rwandan troops were fighting in Rumangabo, a small village north of the regional capital, Goma”.
Rumangabo is the headquarters of the Virunga National Park where our former CEO Emmanuel de Merode and his team of rangers including Diddy and Innocent are based. In a post on the Official Virunga National Park website where Samantha reports that heavy fighting had broken out between the army and Nkunda’s rebels. The fighting approached the park station (Rumangabo is the Park headquarters). Military tanks were apparently “firing on the hills where they believe the rebels to be; an army helicopter is also hovering, patroling the area”.
It is now certain that the CNDP (Nkunda’s troops) have taken control of the Rumangabo military base – a major blow to the army and a major threat to the Rangers at the station.
A post on the blog at Gorilla.cd states
“Emmanuel is doing his utmost to try and secure the station and get the remaining people out. Monuc – the UN team in DRC – thankfully knows Pierre and the others are all there and have told them not to move from the station as it is unsafe”.
This is of course terrible news for conservation as it not only puts the ICCN staff in a severely dangerous situation(over 120 rangers have died in the line of duty over recent years), but will further curtail conservation activities, patrols or management of the park. In addition, it is likely to escalate the problem of internal refugees which will deepen the environmental impact of the tens of thousands that are being displaced as they seek safety.