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he Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration are saddened by recent attacks on Virunga National Park rangers and Congolese soldiers by the FDLR militia. These attacks are taking place in the Central Sector of Virunga National Park, near Rwindi.

On January 24, a rocket-propelled grenade hit an early morning patrol one kilometer north of Mabenga, just inside the park border, killing three park rangers and five Congolese soldiers. Another three rangers were critically injured.

Again, on January 30, a park vehicle came under fire and another ranger was killed and a driver critically injured. This attack took place ambushed on the Kabasha escarpment to the west of the park. The ranger killed was part of the civilian protection unit positioned along the road.

Park rangers and regular army units have been working together to secure the area within the national park known to be heavily frequented by FDLR militia. The recent attacks are believed to be retaliation for the joint efforts by park rangers and Congolese soldiers including the destruction of FDLR camps late in 2010. Park rangers have also been working to stop the destruction of the forest for the illegal production of charcoal, a money-making industry for the militia.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of our colleagues who were killed in their efforts to protect the public from illegal armed groups” said Virunga National Park Director Emmanuel de Merode. “130 of Virunga’s rangers have died since the beginning of the war in 1996, but the park’s staff remains determined to protect the park.”

Virunga National Park, African oldest national park (established in 1925) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, is home to 200 of the world’s mountain gorillas and a small population of eastern lowland gorillas.

Formerly known as Albert National Park, Virunga lies in eastern DR Congo and covers 7,800 square kilometers. The park is managed by the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature, the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN).