African Parks announced today that their park rangers in Garamba National Park in DRC had an armed encounter with a Lords' Resistance Army group on Saturday 18th May after being deployed to investigate a poached elephant that had been sighted in the park.
During the ensuing exchange, the park rangers injured one of the LRA combatants as well as two young women in the LRA group, who died later in the Nagero Hospital of their wounds.
The 24-year-old LRA combatant, of Ugandan origin, was taken to hospital and handed over to MONUSCO, the UN operation in DRC. He was part of an LRA group that has attacked residents around the park border village of Faradje in recent months.
The park rangers reported that there were 16 people in the LRA group they encountered - eight LRA combatants and eight women and children. It is tragic that women and children are forced to accompany LRA combatants in the field and African Parks regret the death of the two young women caught in the crossfire. They had been abducted by the LRA one and two years prior to the incident.
Last week's encounter comes at a time of growing concern over the increase in LRA activity in and around Garamba. According to the online LRA Crisis Tracker (www.lracrisistracker.com), there have been 45 LRA incidents in and around the park this year, the highest level of LRA activity in central Africa.
This LRA presence not only puts the lives of the rangers in Garamba at risk, but threatens the lives and livelihoods of people around the park, making normal life untenable. The activities of the LRA appear to be increasingly funded by elephant poaching and the trading of ivory.
Obviously African Parks cannot bear the responsibility of combating the LRA alone, even within the boundaries of the national park. They call on the international community to intensify their efforts to rout out the LRA and capture their leader Joseph Kony. In the meanwhile African Parks will continue to do all in their power to combat the threats to the wildlife and people in and around Garamba.