Rebels agree to stop gorilla killings
January 29, 2007, 10:56 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized


Rangers who fled their patrol posts in the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, when they became the target of rebel forces, will start returning to their posts.

For conservationists this is a considerable triumph, as the rangers will be able to resume what they were originally employed to do – look after the welfare of the endangered mountain gorillas in the park.

International outrage over the recent killing of two silverback gorillas in the park by the rebels played a major part in ensuring the return of the park’s rangers, and hopefully the future safety of the gorillas.

Robert Muir of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, who is based in the Congo, said an agreement had finally been reached with Laurent Nkunda’s rebels to allow the rangers safe passage back to the park.

In the ongoing war between rangers and rebel forces in the park, 97 rangers have been killed in the past 10 years. As a result 15 of them fled to Uganda in December. Later they returned home to live like refugees in Rumangabo, a village in their own country.

Now a UN peacekeeping force (Monuc) is due to escort them back to their posts on Tuesday.

Over the past week, there have been several attempts to negotiate with the rebel high command.

It began when villagers were advised of the killing of the two silverbacks.

Shortly after that Muir, the chief warden for the southern sector of the park, Paulin Ngobobo, six wardens and Monuc entered rebel terrain within the park to try to persuade the rebels to stop the killings and to bring back irrefutable proof of the slaughter.

They managed to bring out the head of one of the gorillas, along with some gruesome remains found floating in a cesspit, but were unable to make contact with the rebels, who made threatening overtures on finding them in their area.

The small party retreated, taking their gory proof with them, and released pictures worldwide. Amid the ensuing furore, Nkunda put out a press statement denying that his men had killed the animals.

Conservationists Muir and Ian Redmond, chief consultant for the UN Great Apes Survival Project, who for years worked with the world-renowned primatologist Dian Fossey, did not let it rest there. They continued to attempt to make contact with the rebels.

On Tuesday a meeting took place between officials from the Virunga Park and the rebels, with Monuc and the Congolese army acting as mediators and after three hours of talks, fighters loyal to Nkunda pledged to stop the killings. The wardens were allowed to return to the park in the area where the gorillas were originally killed.

“We weren’t expecting to succeed given the overwhelming odds against it,” said Ngobobo. “However, this is just another small step. We must keep up international pressure to ensure this doesn’t happen again next week, next month or next year.”

Famed Kenyan conservationist, Richard Leakey, said the rebel pledge had been a direct result of publicity generated about the killings through the Internet.

“This result could never have been achieved before and signals a whole new way for African rangers to help critically endangered species,” said Leakey. – Additional reporting by Sapa.

Myrtle Ryan


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