DRCongo army forces bomb rebels in famed African Virunga National Park

by May 11, 2012Conservation Threats, Virunga

GOMA, DR Congo — Government forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo launched airstrikes Saturday against mutineers near the Rwandan border, where a rebel leader known as the “Terminator” was said to be hiding.

The increasing violence in and around Virunga national park, on the border with Rwanda and Uganda and famed for its volcanos and mountain gorilla population, has also led to the recent death of a ranger.

Fighting in this central African nation has increased dramatically after numerous troops and armed government forces mutinied from their posts.

Many of the mutineers are said to be close to rebel leader General Bosco Ntaganda — known as the “Terminator” and wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes, including charges he enlisted child soldiers.

“Two war planes have joined in the fighting. They have bombed the hills of Runyonyi and Chanzu”, the base of former rebels who joined a government militia before turning mutinous, a loyalist army colonel told AFP.

He said government troops were also using heavy weapons and had asked the local population to leave “so there is no confusion between civilians and the enemy.”

Omar Kavota, a local lawyer and deputy president of a local civil society in north Kivu, confirmed the aerial bombing, saying Bikenge had also been hit.

“But the mutineers are still in control of those areas,” which they captured on Thursday, and don’t appear “rattled”, he told AFP.

The mutineers, however, failed to capture an army base at Rumangabo, he added.

Loyalist forces have also flushed rebels out of Bunagana, a town on the border with Uganda, army officers said.

The mutineers claim to belong to the March 23 Movement (M23), a new splinter group made up of former rebels of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), and are led by Colonel Sultani Makenga, a former CNDP officer.

In April, more than a dozen senior officers from the former CNDP, who were integrated into the national army as a result of peace talks in 2009, mutinied along with several hundred men in the north and south Kivu regions.

Ntaganda is wanted by the ICC on a war crimes charge of enlisting child soldiers, but Kinshasa had refused to hand him over, saying he was needed to keep the peace pact.

But he is also now wanted by the government which holds him responsible for the mutiny.

Loyalist forces believe Ntaganda and a small group of his men have taken refuge in Virunga national park, where a ranger and two soldiers were killed when they came under machine-gun fire from some 100 unidentified men.

Ranger Paris Paluku, married with two children, “was always at the head of any patrol, which put him at risk and ultimately cost him his life,” chief warden Emmanuel de Merode was quoted as saying.

The park has been infiltrated by four distinct militia groups in recent weeks, according to de Merode.

Local residents were said to be fleeing the area to avoid violence in “a large-scale population displacement,” he said. The park is currently closed to tourists because of the instability.

More than 150 park rangers have been killed since the east of the country became a theatre of armed conflict between various groups in 1990, according to the WWF.

Its animals have also suffered, with at least 23 of the critically endangered gorillas being killed.

More than 10,000 people have fled from DR Congo to Rwanda and Uganda following clashes between the Congolese army and mutinous soldiers, officials said Friday.

Source: Google News