Rebels take over Virunga National Park in Congo

October 26th, 2008 - 8:13 pm ICT by IANS  

Nairobi, Oct 26 (DPA) Forces of general Laurent Nkunda, a Tutsi rebel leader, Sunday captured the headquarters of eastern Congo’s Virunga National Park, forcing 50 game wardens to flee into the jungle, park director Emmanuel de Merode said.”We thought we were all going to be killed,” said one of the wardens contacted by telephone. The road between the headquarters and the provincial capital Goma, 45 km away, was blocked by rebels.

What is Africa’s oldest wildlife park - home to 200 rare mountain gorillas - has repeatedly been the scene of fighting between government troops and Nkunda’s rebel forces over the past year.

There is particular concern among conservationists over the gorillas, 10 of which were known to have been killed either in the fighting or by poachers taking advantage of the conflict to hunt them. Only 700 of the gorillas are known still to exist worldwide.

Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) and other groups signed peace accords in January designed to end the sporadic clashes that occurred in 2007, four years after the war in Congo officially ended.

However, the CNDP and government soldiers have been involved in repeated firefights in the eastern North and South Kivu provinces since late August.

Nkunda’s troops have until now confined their operations to the east of the nation, which borders Rwanda, purportedly to protect Tutsis from armed Hutu groups.

Many of the Hutus fled to Congo after the 1994 massacre in Rwanda, when Hutu militia and military massacred 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the space of a few months.

Aid agencies and observers are concerned that the clashes could reignite a wider conflict and plunge Congo back into chaos.

Over five million people are estimated to have died as a result of the long conflict in the resource-rich Central African nation.

The conflict is often referred to as the African World War owing to the large number of different armed forces involved.

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