An ecoguard serving in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park was killed on Saturday night, Nov. 20 during an attack by former rebels of the M23 movement, on a patrol by guards near the village of Bukima, Rutshuru territory.
According to the provincial directorate of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN), the victim was identified as Chief Brigardier Etienne Mutazimiza who was recruited into the ICCN in 1995 and was among the most experienced guards working in the park.
Etienne Mutzimiza was aged 48 and left behind a wife and four children.
“The attack was very violent. It was carried out by certain individuals who were heavily armed,” the ICCN revealed.
“The presumed authors are former members of the M23 who have pitched camp on the border between Rwanda and Uganda and have been trying to establish a base within the territory of the Virunga National Park.”
The armed group had earlier attacked a patrol post of the ICCN about 20 days ago.
“These same individuals had attacked an ICCN patrol post and left their camp heading towards the localities of Jomba and Bunagana. The intervention of the national army of the Democratic Republic of Congo, FARDC, put an end to their troubles, but at a price of several dead within their ranks,” the ICCN added.
The ICCN noted that ecoguards do not have a military status and their actions are not by law treated as relating to armed conflict.
“Their mandate is to ensure the protection of the Congolese natural patrimony, which, in the case of the Virunga National Park, is also inscribed in the World Humanity Patrimony of UNESCO,” it said.
“The Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature would not reserve any effort in bringing to justice, in the respect of the law, the authors of this new war crime.”
“In the respect of its mandate, it will also continue to support the FARDC in order to re-establish state authority throughout the national territory. Finally, in the Mikeno sector specifically, it will pursue its work of protecting the mountain gorillas and other animal species which constitute the beauty of its landscape.”
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