The headquarters of the ranger service in Virunga National Park, D R Congo was evacuated on Sunday 8th July as rebels and bandits over-ran most of the park. 40 rangers have stayed behind at the station to provide protection for a family of orphan gorillas who live at the station.
Information is very sketchy at the moment but reports are coming through that fierce fighting is taking place within the gorillas section of the national park between rebels and a joint force of D R Congo and UN peacekeepers.
UN peacekeepers and government forces launch gunship operations in gorilla park.
Community scouts reported that yesterday a fleet of 5 helicopters from the UN and government launched missile attacks on rebels occupying Bukima on the edge of the gorilla sector.
The families of the rangers and other staff have been moved to a safer area just outside Goma where they have built a make-shift camp.
Most of the fighting has been around Rwindi with the ranger station there seeing over 2000 soldiers being moved in and another 2000 expected shortly.
Hungry and armed soldiers threaten Virunga’s wildlife.
The rangers are also having to deal with the consequences of the fall of Rutshuru with hundreds of hungry and armed soldiers deserting and heading into the forests. Two sections of rangers have been sent to the region to try and protect the wildlife in the area.
You can stay up with the latest happenings at the Virunga National Park chief officer’s blog at their website.
UN accuses Rwanda of supporting the rebels.
While the Rwandan government has denied supporting and funding the rebels currently invading the park a United Nations report recently produced has said that there is substantial evidence the Rwandan authorities are providing essential support including funds, arms and training. The report which was compiled in June had been delayed from being published by the United States who view Rwanda as a friendly state in Africa.
The report claims that senior army officers and even the defense minister are involved with supporting the bandits. The report stated that, “The RDF (Rwandan army) has been providing military equipment, weapons, ammunition and general supplies to M23 rebels,”adding that senior Rwandan officials have been “directly involved” in generating political and financial support for M23.
Boycott Rwanda gorilla tours until they stop supporting attacks in Virunga.
With gorilla tourism being an important income for the Rwandan government it could be time for those heading to Virunga to decide on where to stay and spend their money. While D R Congo section of the vast national park may effectively be out of bounds due to the fighting tourists could consider using their ‘green’ pound and booking with Ugandan gorilla safaris rather than Rwandan based ones until support for the rebels is stopped.