KINSHASA, Congo – Wildlife officials in volatile eastern Congo on Tuesday buried the bodies of eight people killed in an attack on rangers working at a large national park.
Virunga National Park director Emmanuel de Merode said Monday's attack killed three park rangers and five Congolese soldiers. Officials believe the attackers, who fled on foot, were Rwandan-led Hutu rebels who retaliated after rangers destroyed two of their camps in the park in December, he said.
"We are deeply saddened by the loss of our colleagues who were killed in their efforts to protect the public from illegal armed groups," he said.
De Merode said three people were critically injured in the ambush, which he called the worst attack in the park in more than a year. He said 130 park rangers have died since conflict sparked in eastern Congo in 1996 in the aftermath of neighboring Rwanda's 1994 genocide.
Some 400 rangers protect the park, which is home to an array of rare animals, including 200 of the world's 720 remaining mountain gorillas.
Eastern Congo has been wracked by violence since Rwanda's genocide spilled war across the border. Hutu militias that participated in the massacres of more than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus sought refuge in Congo.