On 24 January 2011, three park guards and five soldiers were killed in a violent attack against one of the patrol vehicles of the Congolese Wildlife Authority (ICCN) in Virunga National Park. The park is one of five World Heritage sites in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
According to ICCN, the ambush took place around 10:00 am in Rutshuru in the region of North Kivu, about 100 km north of the town of Goma. Early reports indicate there were eight victims: three guards of the park and five soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC). Three others are in critical condition and there is possibly a ninth victim.
The attack comes just after the high-level meeting concerning the country's World Heritage sites, held in Kinshasa on 14 January and attended by the Congolese Prime Minister, the Vice Prime Minister, the Minister for the Interior and Security, the Minister for the Environment and the Director-General of UNESCO. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Prime Minister and the UNESCO Director-General signed the Kinshasa Declaration, in which the Congolese Government committed to, among other actions, ensuring security at World Heritage sites.
The guards had been deployed to the border of the park because the area is often occupied by the rebel group Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, and their vehicle was struck by a grenade while patrolling the park. The assailants fled and have not been found. According to Congolese authorities, the attack is in retaliation for the destruction by Park guards of two FDLR camps in December 2010.
Two guards were also killed at the Okapi Faune Reserve, another World Heritage site, in December 2010, during a clash with armed poachers. These victims are in addition to 130 guards killed at Virunga National Park since the conflict began in 1996.
The UNESCO World Heritage Centre would like to present its condolences to the families of the victims and the personnel of ICCN. Mr Francesco Bandarin, interim Director of the World Heritage Centre, deplores "this sad and heavy toll in human lives," and wishes to "honor the devotion of these guards who ensure, at the risk of their lives, the safeguarding of these World Heritage sites." He added, "This latest incident is a reminder of the urgency to implement the commitments made by the Government during the high-level meeting and to ensure and reinforce the security of the people and guards in and around World Heritage sites, as lack of security is a serious issue affecting all World Heritage sites in the Democratic Republic of the Congo."
Virunga National Park was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1979 and the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1994.