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Who's behind violence in DR Congo's famous park?

A map showing the location of the Virunga National Park in DR Congo
BBC
Virunga is Africa's oldest national park covering a vast area of 7,800 square km (3,000 square miles)

The Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is famed for its endangered species like mountain gorillas.

Rangers working there face constant violence from armed groups and poachers.

They've recently paid tribute to six of their colleagues who were killed on Monday in one of the deadliest ambushes in the park.

Park director Emmanuel de Merode told BBC Newsday he believes rebels from the Mai-Mai Charles militant group are responsible for the killings:

It's not the first attack we've suffered from this group - there have been a number [of attacks] over the years. They're they only group that operate in that area.

It's part of bigger picture involving the trafficking of natural resources. The rangers themselves for protecting the park and protecting the people who travel through it.

Trafficking was estimated last year to be worth over $170m (£120m), of which these militia groups are drawing $47m."

Listen to the interview in full below:

Five rangers and a driver were killed earlier this week

Who's behind the violence in the Virunga National Park?

Five rangers and a driver were killed earlier this week
The Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo is famed for its endangered species like mountain gorillas. Rangers working there work face constant violence from armed groups and poachers. They've recently paid tribute to six of their comrades who were killed in one of the park's deadliest ambush. But who is responsible for the killings? BBC Newsday put this question to Emmanuel de Merode, the director of the park.

(Picture: An adult male gorilla looks at a park ranger on the slopes of Mount Mikeno in the Virunga National Park. Credit: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)

Six killed in Virunga National Park

An access to the Virunga National Park is seen near Rutshuru on June 17, 2014.
Getty Images

Five rangers and their driver have been killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga National Park, AFP news agency reports.

The park, which is famous for being home to gorillas and other endangered species, is Africa's oldest and was established in 1925.

A spokesman for Virunga, Joel Malembe, told AFP that the rangers were ambushed while driving near the Ugandan border.

The team's leader survived, though he was wounded in the attack.

Virunga spans 7,800 kilometres (3,011 miles) and runs along the border with Uganda and Rwanda.

Lions, elephants and hippos share the site with the gorillas but they come under frequent threat from poachers.

Priest killed in DRC

A youngster sings inside the Mulamo Baptist Church in the Kyala neighbourhood of Butembo, North Kivu province, on November 10, 2016.
Getty Images
A church in North Kivu province, which is facing a wave of violence from militia groups

A priest has been shot dead in the Democratic Republic of Congo, shortly after he held mass in North Kivu province.

The head of the Goma diocese in North Kivu told AFP news agency that a local militia group was responsible.

"Father Etienne Sengiyumva was killed Sunday by the Mai Mai Nyatura in Kyahemba where he had just celebrated a mass including a baptism and a wedding," Father Gonzague Nzabanita said.

He added that Sengiyumva had had lunch with a parishioner before he was shot in the head.

It is the latest in a wave of violence affecting North Kivu province where militia groups have begun extorting money from local people and fighting over natural resources.

Last week, unknown men kidnapped another priest and issued a $500,000 (£354,000) ransom for his release.

South Korea voices concerns over DR Congo election

A new voting machine to be used during the Democratic Republic of the Congo"s (DRC) elections sits on a table beside two ballot boxes on February 21, 2018 in Kinshasa.
AFP
An international row has broken out over these voting machines

South Korea's government has distanced itself from a firm providing the Democratic Republic of Congo voting equipment derided by opposition politicians as "cheating machines".

The embassy released an official statement to news agency AFP after it emerged a South Korean firm called Miru Systems Co. Ltd. is providing the machines, unveiled by the DR Congo's Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) in February.

According to CENI President Corneille Nangaa, one machine would be able to handle the ballots of "600 to 700 voters".

But the international community has raised concerns about the use of the machines - including Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, who said the delayed vote should only be held using paper ballots.

In contrast, CENI says the machines could reduce voter fraud and will allow the long-delayed election to go ahead in December.

But South Korea's embassy appeared to share the concerns of the US ambassador.

It told AFP the machines "could give the Congolese government a pretext for undesirable results related to the elections, notably a further delay in holding the elections".

"The international community is concerned by the fact that the Congolese government could once again postpone the election or endanger the peaceful and orderly conduct of the election," the embassy added, saying the government shared its concerns.

Mr Nangaa dismissed the concerns.

DR Congo kidnappers demand hefty ransom for priest

Kidnappers of a Catholic priest in the Democratic Republic of Congo's eastern city of Goma in North Kivu province have demanded $500,000 (£355,000) for his release, the church said.

Father Celestin Ngango was taken away by armed men on Sunday shortly after he celebrated Easter mass in his parish.

"His kidnappers have contacted the St Paul of Karambi parish to demand $500,000 in ransom for his release," the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) said, while demanding he be set free immediately.

North and South Kivu provinces have experienced a wave of violence among militia groups, which often extort money from civilians or fight each other for control of mineral resources.

Three priests were seized in the region in October 2012, and two others were abducted in July last year.

There has been no news of any of them since then, CENCO said.

DR Congo officials arrested for rape

Alex Duval Smith

BBC Africa, Dakar

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the deputy governor of Equateur province has been arrested after being accused of rape.

Tathy Bikamba is due to be transferred to the capital, Kinshasa, to be tried.

Mr Bikamba was arrested on Sunday. He is accused of raping a 20-year-old woman the previous day after giving her drugs.

His lawyer, Imbambo Engulu, rejects the accusations:

"The circumstances in which he was arrested were irregular," he said. "We even tried to ask for him to be placed under house arrest in recognition of his status. As for the accusation, he denies it. He will plead not guilty.''

'Rebels kill eleven in DR Congo'

Suspected rebels have killed 11 people in Beni, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, news agency Reuters reports.

Local Mayor Nyonyi Bwanakawa told the agency the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group was behind the attack.

DR Congo map
BBC

A local human rights activist said the attackers were armed with machetes and hatchets.

Officials say that at least 1,000 civilians have been killed in similar attacks since 2014.

Independent experts have however blamed DR Congo soldiers for the killings.

DR Congo and Uganda launched a joint military offensive against the ADF in January after the group was blamed for killing 15 Tanzanian peacekeepers during an attack in December.

The ADF was formed in late 1990s by a puritanical Muslim sect in the Ruwenzori mountains of western Uganda.