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Deforestation threatens national park in DRC

Internally displaced people (IDP) carry charcoal from the forest at the foot of Nyiragongo volcano in Virunga National Park on January 13, 2023   -  
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Democratic Republic Of Congo

The Virunga National Park in eastern DRC is under threat.

The conflict between government forces and the M23 rebels, allegedly supported by Rwanda, has led tens of thousands of civilians to flee the conflict. 

Many of the internal displaced have resorted to cutting down trees for firewood and charcoal.

"Since we have been in the refugee camp, humanitarian aid has not arrived. The majority of the displaced are now here in the park, and become loggers to find food. It's been three months since we received any help, so instead of starving, we come to cut wood in the park", said Jean-Bosco Bitegane, a displaced person. 

Many refugees have sought shelter in the park home to spectacular species of wildlife including mountain gorillas.

"We want to go home, to flee the war, we have abandoned everything, I imagine the attackers have already looted everything while famine threatens us here. So, if we are in the park today, it is to avoid starving to death", added the displaced person. 

Aside from the displaced the park authorities have to deal with the local armed militias. Last month, two rangers were killed and another wounded by suspected militiamen.

In less than two months more than 500 acres of forest have been razed to stumps.

"There is a need among the displaced, a need for firewood, but also on the other hand, we have an obligation to protect the park, and that really puts us in a difficult situation. But aside from the presence of displaced people in this area, it is also worth pointing out the activism of armed groups", added Méthode Uhoze, head of external relations of the Virunga National Park.

Last week, Rwandan President Paul Kagame said the country would no longer accept people escaping the violence in neighbouring DRC , further stoking tensions between the two countries.

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