A Congolese minister has warned he may offer to “militarize” wildlife parks in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to protect them from rebels he says are backed by Rwanda.
Tourism Minister Modero Nsimba has accused Rwanda, which is hosting an international conference on African wildlife protected areas this week, of hypocrisy.
“The host country is supporting the M23 rebel group that is killing, looting and devastating the world heritage protected area Virunga National Park,” he said at a press conference late Wednesday night.
“Those taking part in the meeting in Kigali and the international community should formally condemn Rwanda and take action to protect the Virunga Park, this world heritage, just as the world acted in unanimity when the mosques in Timbuktu in Mali were attacked” by jihadists in 2012, he said.
Otherwise, “I will propose the militarization of protected areas in the eastern part of the DRC,” he said.
“Everyone is indifferent to the drama imposed by Rwanda,” he complained.
Africa’s oldest Virunga National Park is home to mirror-image wildlife, including mountain gorillas.
The 97-year-old harbor spans almost 8,000 square kilometers (3,000 sq mi), including border areas with Rwanda and Uganda.
But he also fights attacks by armed groups.
The M23s Nsimba refers to rose to prominence when they briefly captured the eastern Congolese city of Goma in 2012 before being driven out in a joint UN-Congo offensive.
After lying largely inactive for years, the M23s resumed hostilities last November after accusing the Congolese government of not honoring an agreement to include their fighters in the army.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has repeatedly accused Rwanda of supporting the M23, a charge that its smaller neighbor has always denied.
Nsimba’s remarks contrast with the DRC’s July 6 claim that Angola has mediated a “de-escalation process” in the conflict with Rwanda.
Other groups accused of the Virunga attacks include the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Rwandan Hutu ethnic group that has been active in eastern DRC for more than two decades.
Historically, FDLR has been linked to figures involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which some 800,000 people, mostly from the Tutsi minority, were killed.
The largest country in sub-Saharan Africa, the DRC says nearly a seventh of its country has been set aside for conservation.
But his government is under fire from green groups over plans to auction off rainforest drilling rights in the so-called central basin in the country’s west.
Greenpeace says the designated blocks intersect with peatlands and several protected areas.
Peatlands are a “carbon bomb” that, if disturbed, can release large amounts of heat-trapping gas, increasing global warming and accelerating climate change.