De Merode, head of Congo’s Virunga National Park, recovering from attack

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2014, 9:49pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2014, 9:49pm


Unidentified armed men have critically wounded the Belgian head of Africa's oldest wildlife reserve, the Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo, officials said.

The victim, Emmanuel de Merode, "was shot in the chest", North Kivu provincial governor Julien Paluku said on Tuesday, following the attack, which took place about 30 kilometres north of the capital, Goma.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders tweeted his best wishes for De Merode's swift recovery, adding that "we are opening an enquiry", into the apparent ambush.

A Congolese army official also said that an investigation was under way.

Paluku said the attack happened as De Merode was driving himself, unescorted, from Goma towards the Congolese Institute for Conservation and Nature centre in Rumangabo.

De Merode was in hospital in Goma following an operation to remove bullets from his body.

The Virunga reserve, on the border with Uganda and Rwanda, covers 800,000 hectares and has attained worldwide renown, notably for its rare and endangered mountain gorillas. The area is exceptionally rich in biodiversity, but is located in the scarred North Kivu province, tracts of which have been ravaged by successive conflicts for more than 20 years.

Poachers and logging teams have damaged the reserve, but the park is also criss-crossed by rival armed groups and soldiers, while local people have taken up illegal residence.