Five park rangers killed in DRC in tragic weekend for wildlife defenders

  • As Building in Pakistan collapses, killing at least 2 residents

Four Congolese park rangers and one porter have been killed in an ambush in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A large group of journalists and park rangers were attacked on Friday 14 July in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve by an armed local rebel group. It is believed that the journalists – one from the US, two Dutch, and one Congolese – were covering a story about the work of the rangers in the forest.

The attack is thought to have been by Mai Mai rebels from the area who have been carrying out illegal poaching and mining activities. They have previously come into conflict with rangers.

Following the attack, three rangers and the US national were reported missing, while the rest of the group escaped to another Okapi reserve base.

The bodies of four Congolese rangers from the state park authority, the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), and one porter were found the following day, on the evening of Saturday 15 July. There are conflicting reports on whether the rangers and porter were killed during the ambush or in a rescue operation. Further details have not yet been released.

“The rescue mission started in the night between Friday to Saturday as soon as we knew that something happened. We don’t know if there were casualties on the attacker’s side,” said Rosmarie Ruf, project manager at Okapi Conservation Project.

The US journalist was found “safe and healthy”, Mambasa territory administrator Alfred Bongwalanga told the Associated Press.

“We are aware of reports that the US citizen reported kidnapped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been found safe,” the State Department said in a statement.

“The US Department of State has no higher priority than the protection of US citizens overseas. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment.‎”

One of the journalists involved in the incident has been identified by the AFP as Lisa Dupuy.

The Dutch foreign ministry confirmed that Dutch nationals were “involved in an incident in Congo and are now safe”.

Ruf said the journalists and rangers would have been vulnerable to attacks in the forest, as they would have travelled by foot. “You have to walk hours and hours through the forest. You can’t see your enemy from far away until he’s there.”

Mai Mai is an umbrella term for local militias who have been active since Congo’s civil war in 1997. They are prolific recruiters of child soldiers and are notorious for committing human rights abuses. Mai Mai Simba describes itself as a “self-defence” rebel group that operates in the Okapi area. The Simba rebels led by an elephant poacher known as Morgan launched a violent attack on the Okapi Widlife Reserve headquarters in 2012, as a response to a crackdown on poaching and mining in the park. The group killed six people and took 28 women hostage.

The Okapi Wildlife Reserve, a Unesco world heritage site, occupies one fifth of the Ituri forest in north-east DRC. It is home to multiple endangered species, including elephants, chimpanzees and okapis. Approximately 5,000 of the last 30,000 okapis live in the reserve.

In the meantime, a dilapidated, three-story building in a poorer neighborhood of Pakistan’s sprawling port city of Karachi has collapsed as the residents slept, killing at least two people and injuring another eight.

Rescue workers are still trying to free at least two survivors trapped when the building collapsed about 3 a.m. Tuesday.

Karachi’s Deputy Commissioner Farid Uddin said the death toll could climb as rescue workers carefully sifted through the rubble.

Uddin said the cause of the collapse wasn’t immediately known.

Initial reports indicate the age of the building and poor construction could have caused the collapse.

Safety codes are often ignored in Pakistan and in some of the poorer areas construction is haphazard and bribes are paid to inspectors to approve substandard construction.

Guardian with additional report from Abc