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A ranger and two soldiers were killed in Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga national park as they protected a road used by civilians fleeing rebels, the WWF nature conservancy body said Saturday.
The men came under machine-gun fire by a group of 100 unidentified militia members while attempting to secure an important transit route, said Natasha Kofoworola Quist, a WWF regional representative.
“We owe them and their families a debt of gratitude for their courage and sacrifice,” she added.
Ranger Paris Paluku, married with two children, “was always at the head of any patrol, which put him at risk and ultimately cost him his life,” chief warden Emmanuel de Merode was quoted as saying.
Virunga National Park, located on the border with Rwanda and Uganda and known for its volcanos and mountain gorilla population, has been infiltrated by four distinct militia groups in recent weeks, according to de Merode.
Local residents are said to be fleeing the area to avoid violence in “a large-scale population displacement,” he said. The park is currently closed to tourists because of the instability.
More than 150 park rangers have been killed since the east of the country became a theatre of armed conflict between various groups in 1990, according to the WWF.
Its animals have also suffered, with at least 23 of the rare gorillas being killed. - Sapa-AFP