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Congo Rebels Seize Gorilla Park

Rangers forced to flee into the forest
28 October 2008

Park Headquarters at quieter times - photo ICCNRebels loyal to dissident General Laurent Nkunda seized the Headquarters of Virunga National Park and its Gorilla Sector last Sunday after intense fighting with the Congolese army since the early hours. 53 Rangers were forced to flee into the forests and abandon the park station, in fear of their lives.

Fighting between rebels and the army in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) has been intermittent in this lush volcanic area, keeping wildlife rangers out of the forest for the last eight months. When the conflict intensified late August, renewed instability and chaos was brought to the area, including the Virunga National Park, that is home to 200 of the last remaining 700 mountain gorillas in the world.

"The seizure of our Park Headquarters at Rumangabo by rebels is unprecedented, even in all the years of conflict in the region," said Virunga Park Director Emmanuel de Merode. As the rebels are heading towards the regional capital Goma, tens of thousands of civilians abandoned their homes ahead of the rebel advance. As a result of the tension, several NGOs and conservation groups have evacuated Goma.

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