A few weeks away from the presidential elections, the electoral campaign promises have already started taking its toll on Virunga National Park. Since the beginning of the launch of the campaign, environmental activists have been warning political actors to avoid campaign messages that may incite people to the destruction of Virunga National Park (1). Unfortunately, this message was not heard and only five days after the official launch of the campaign the first victim fell: Virunga ranger Kasereka Masumbuko Ezechiel was killed in action after an attack by armed militia at a ranger post on Lake Edward.
On Wednesday November 28, three people were killed, an ICCN eco-guard and two civilians, and another wounded in a confrontation between protesters and elements of the ICCN and FARDC Joint Eco-Guard Force in the Vitshumbi enclave on Lake Edward, in Rutshuru territory (North Kivu), according to local civil society sources.
Protesters, some of them in school uniforms, demanded from ICCN local officials the unconditional entry of building materials into the Vitshumbi fishing enclave, which until then has been strictly regulated by the official authority of Virunga national Par.
But some of these protesters were reportedly armed, which turned the protest into an armed confrontation, local sources said. According to some administrative sources and local civil society, the armed demonstrators were Mai-Mai militias, disguised as students.
These sources mention the fact that in the shooting, an eco-guard of the ICCN was killed, while in the replica, the joint force caused the death of two local civilians.
This incident comes eleven days after the passage in this enclave, the governor of North Kivu, Julien Paluku. In a popular meeting on 17 November, the latter verbally raised ICCN regulations on the entry of building materials into Vitshumbi.
The protesters demanded the ICCN to allow the local population “to implement this measure of the governor”. Some environmental civil society members in Goma fear political manipulation in this incident. They demand that the solution be found quickly to reconcile the population of Vitshumbi and the ICCN and avoid a new incident of this kind in the future.