Two guards at Virunga National Park have been killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the latest bloodshed to rock the preserve designated as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.
In a statement on Sunday, the park said the two guards “were shot and succumbed to their injuries” in Nyamusengera, a section near the Edward River, which marks the frontier with Uganda.
The Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) said the attack was likely to be blamed on the Mai-Mai, an armed group.
Kambale Muhindo, a worker in Vitshumbi, a fishing village 5 km (3 miles) from the scene of the attack, told the AFP news agency that “a group of poachers wanted to kill a hippopotamus and to protect themselves they ambushed the guards.”
Blaise Kalisha, a human rights activist, said that “six guards have been injured and sent to the Vitshumbi Catholic hospital”.
Since 2020, different armed groups have carried out attacks and ambushes targeting guards in the park.
On May 18 this year, four park employees, of whom three were guards, were killed. The authorities blamed the same armed group.
The ICCN warned of a resurgence of violence in February, after suspected Mai-Mai fighters killed a ranger in a third attack.
Founded in 1925, Virunga National Park has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.
It is known for its fauna and landscapes as it’s a vast expanse of deep forests, glaciers and volcanos, with more species of birds, reptiles and mammals than any other protected area in the world. But it is also known to serve as a base for a number of armed groups for more than two decades.
The park has been caught in the middle of militia activity that has destabilised surrounding regions since civil wars fought around the turn of the century.