Conflict in eastern Congo is once again in the headlines, once again it’s very bad news.
Emmanuel on Gorilla.cd reports
“Fighting at Rumangabo started at 0400 today between the rebels of Laurent Nkunda and the army. It has now totally engulfed the park station and our Rangers have been forced to flee into the forests for their lives. The rebels now are the only occupants of the park station at Rumangabo. This has never happened before. This is a serious time. We need to get our 50+ Rangers back to safety in Goma, 45km south of Rumangabo. The main road is blocked because of the fighting so they are walking through the forests of the park south, to Kibumba, about 20km away, where we aim to pick them up in trucks. We are trying to maintain phone contact but they don’t have much battery life in their phones”.
Emmanuel has made an appeal on Gorilla.cd and any donations made here will go directly to support these rangers during these difficult times. I’ve spoken to some friends on the ground who say that the situation is extremely bad.
An ABC news report on Monuc website reports that “Rebels loyal to renegade Gen. Laurent Nkunda have seized a major army camp in eastern Congo in heavy fighting Sunday that sent thousands of civilians fleeing, U.N. officials and rebels said. An unknown number of soldiers, rebels and civilians were killed in the renewed fighting in North Kivu province, civilians said.
Government troops raced down the road north from the provincial capital of Goma to reinforce a counterattack Sunday morning. One tank careened into a group of fleeing civilians and killed three teenage boys”.
This is the second time that Nkunda and his rebels have attacked Rumangabo. Thousands more are now fleeing through the forests and aid agencies say that the fighting jeopardises the delivery of aid to the now malnourished victims of this escalating conflict.
More reports here on the Guardian and the BBC who state that the fighting is continuing and an unknown number of people have been killed. More than 200,000 people are said to have fled the area since the end of August.
The situation in eastern DR Congo around Rumangabo remains very bad according to Monuc who has just reported that the CNDP attack on Rumangabo on 7 October, has left over 15,000 people displaced and fleeing or living in makeshift camps. They state that in a recent visit they found Rumangabo had been “virtually emptied of it inhabitants”, and these who had returned had suffered a campaign of “systematic lootings by the armed forces of the DRC (FARDC)”. Emmanuel reports on the Virunga Park website that rangers have been able to prevent any looting of the Rumangabo Headquarters of the the Virunga National Park and while many rangers have returned to Rumangabo but their families are still in the temporary camp for their own security in Goma.
Efforts however are underway to try and halt the cycle of violence and the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday urged an immediate ceasefire by all parties to halt the resurgence of violence in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
A number of organizations are trying to raise awareness and international reaction including blogs like Peter Godspeed who predicts that “The war the world ignored, at the cost of more than five million dead since 1998, is exploding once again” and Abayomi Azikiwe writing about the historical background and who thinks that the UN is posed for greater intervention in the Congo.
The main concern being raised in the news is the humanitarian crisis resulting from recent fighting which puts the civilian population at great risk and is hampering humanitarian operations. There is universal condemnation for the recruitment and use of children by armed groups, and the continued use of sexual and gender-based violence.
Despite all the attention the rhetoric is escalating, rebels have rejected the call for a ceasefire and the UN is poised to strengthen the Monuc forces in Kivus, while President Kabila himself has been on Congolese television appealing to the people of eastern DRC to take up arms and defeat Laurent Nkunda and his rebels.
The United Nations Mission in DR Congo has informed the French Press Agency AFP that rebel forces have withdrawn from the military base in Rumangabo which they took following fierce fighting with the army.
“At the request of MONUC, the armed elements of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) have withdrawn from the Rumangabo military camp,” the UN mission (MONUC) have said.
The dangerous situation at Rumangabo has forced about 50 rangers and their families to be evacuated to Goma where a temporary camp has beeen established using sticks and tarps. This is a set back for gorilla conservation and speaking to ITV news Innocent is quoted as saying “Nowadays in our forest it is very difficult to work because there are different groups of army who are in the park. You can see the FDLR, the Congolese army, the CNDP, it is very difficult to work,”. In the same article Emmanuel confirms that negotiations will continue to regain access to the Gorilla sector which has been in control of CNDP rebels and out of bounds for ICCN rangers for more than a year.
According to AFP “The Congolese president made a nationwide television appeal on Thursday for a renewed campaign against Nkunda, who claims to be protecting members of his Tutsi ethnic group in the region” but the United Nations has “promised to do everything possible to stop Congo’s eastern conflict from becoming a wider war after the DR Congo government accused Rwanda of sending troops over the border, a U.N. official said on Friday” to Reuters.