GOMA, Congo (Reuters) – A line of Congolese park rangers raised their guns in salute on Monday as the coffin bearing their colleague Burhani Abdou Surumwe, a 30-year-old father of four, was buried in the black volcanic soil of a Muslim cemetery outside Goma.
Abdou was one of six rangers killed on Sunday in an ambush in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park, a sanctuary for endangered mountain gorillas that is also home to dozens of armed groups.
The rangers, heavily armed and well-trained, are frequently attacked. In April, a dozen of their number from the Congo Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) were killed by suspected Hutu militiamen.
Park director Emmanuel de Merode, who was himself shot and injured in 2014, said his team were unbowed, despite the dangers.
“We are facing a situation that is extremely difficult, but which in no way erodes the conviction of all ICCN staff to continue our efforts.”
Abdou Surumwe’s older brother Maliki, his eyes wet with tears, said he had been “a good advisor, a hard worker, someone who loved to live with people”.
The United Nations says more than a hundred armed groups operate in eastern Congo, many of them remnants of groups that fought in civil wars around the turn of the century that resulted in millions of deaths from conflict, hunger and disease.
Virunga sits on the forest-covered volcanoes of central Africa and is home to over half the global population of mountain gorillas.
It is Africa’s oldest national park and largest tropical rainforest reserve, covering 7,800 sq km (3,000 sq miles).
(Reporting by Djaffar Al Katanty; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Kevin Liffey)