Game guards at Garamba National Park in north-eastern DRC yesterday came under attack from a substantial LRA force close to park headquarters, according to a statement by the Johannesburg-based park management NGO, African Parks, this morning.
Garamba, one of the oldest national parks in Africa, shelters 3,000 elephants and many other wildlife species which have been secured by African Parks’ management presence in the park since 2005, despite the region’s instability. The LRA, notorious for killing and kidnapping women and children, has been an ongoing threat since moving into the region in recent years to escape the Ugandan army.
African Parks CEO, Peter Fearnhead said park guards yesterday encountered an LRA group consisting of 50 well-armed men within the park, 12 km from park headquarters, after investigating gun shots close to a herd of elephants. An hour-long exchange of fire ensued during which several of the LRA attackers were injured. “Although out-numbered, our rangers managed to escape through a swamp and make their way back to park headquarters at Nagero,” he said.
Mr Fearnhead said he feared an imminent attack on Nagero and had asked park management to evacuate non-essential personnel. This was to avoid a repeat of the devastation caused in January 2009 when a 200-strong LRA force attacked Nagero, killing 15 African Parks’ staff-members and kidnapping two children whist destroying $2 million worth of buildings and equipment.
The DRC’s FARDC military forces, the United Nations’ MONUSCO troops, as well as US military troops in north-eastern DRC had been kept informed about the growing LRA threat in Garamba in recent months, said Mr Fearnhead. “In April an LRA camp sheltering more than 100 people was discovered by our rangers in the middle of the park. Although the occupants fled, a young woman rescued by our rangers confirmed that the camp occupants were LRA and included more than 50 armed men plus 60 women and children. According to this woman’s statement, the camp leader was named “Mandela” and was in regular contact with Joseph Kony. During her time in the camp, she had witnessed a group of men leaving with ten elephant tusks en route to Kony’s base.
Garamba personnel had rescued 13 children who had escaped from the LRA and were found wandering in the park in recent months, said Mr Fearnhead. The park’s surveillance aircraft had come under fire from LRA forces on the ground in recent weeks.
“We have requested urgent military assistance from FARDC, MONUSCO and the US military in order to secure the Nagero headquarters, protect our 237 park personnel, and help ensure stability in the region,” said Mr Fearnhead. “In the meantime we have ordered the evacuation of non-essential park personnel from our headquarters.”
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