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Illegal charcoal seized and given to refugees

Authorities halt the illegal trade in natural resources around Virunga


January 24, 2008 - Despite of the insecurity and the lack of access to the national parks, authorities around Virunga National Park are trying to tackle the illegal trade in natural resources.

Since the end of December the DR Congolese park authority, ICCN, has seized over 40 tonnes of charcoal during anti-illegal charcoal patrols north of Goma, around Virunga National Park. Charcoal burning has increased enormously as a result of the insecurity in the area.

Wildlife Direct estimated in mid-December that there had been "a 10-fold increase in the illegal charcoal trade since September 2007", because of a lack of control in the protected area, due to the escalation of fighting between Congolese government troops and rebels allied with dissident General Laurent Nkunda.

After the ICCN received legal permission from the National Prosecutor of the DR Congo, 36 rangers were mobilized to halt the trucks full of illegally burned charcoal coming out of the protected areas.

The seized charcoal has been transported to camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) near the park. The camps that have benefitted are: Mugunga I, Mugunga II, Buhimba & Bulengo - where a total of some 65,000 people have found refuge.

Refugee camps around Virunga National Park

In recent months, increasing violence and lawlessness has forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes. The UN refugee agency estimates that 800,000 people are displaced in North Kivu, including those uprooted by previous conflicts.

Early January 2008, a UN peacekeeping (MONUC) patrol close to Virunga National Park seized two infant lowland gorillas from poachers. They were seized after a very lengthy negotiation, and no arrests were made. MONUC does not have the mandate nor the authority to make an arrest over a wildlife crime.

The peace pact signed on the 23rd of January 2008 by the movement of rebel ex-general Laurent Nkunda and other militias in eastern DR Congo's Kivu provinces, could lead to more security in this region. Whether this "Act of Engagement" will soon provide safe access for ICCN to restart its monitoring activities in the Gorilla Sector of Virunga NP, remains unclear.

Meanwhile, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Government of the DRC will soon sign an agreement worth $390 million for a good governance project. The initiative, to run from this year until 2012, is a UNDP-led effort to promote stable and legitimate governance, as well as economic, judicial and security sector reform.

Conflict and humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo have taken the lives of an estimated 5.4 million people since 1998 and continue to leave as many as 45,000 dead every month, according to a major survey released this week by the International Rescue Committee.

Wildlife Direct weblog on Gorilla Protection

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