DR Congo’s Virunga park condemns ‘illegal’ land sales

This photograph, taken on September 28, 2019, shows the crops bordering Virunga National Park, northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo. – In North Kivu province, illegal logging is one of the main threats to the conservation of Virunga National Park and its trade is an important source of income for armed groups. (Photo by ALEXIS HUGUET / AFP)

GOMADR Congo (AFP) — A world-famous gorilla reserve in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo denounced on Wednesday the “illegal sale” of land within its territory.

Land in at least four areas of the Virunga National Park have been sold off, according to the reserve’s director.

“The perpetrators falsely claim that the Congolese justice system has given them the land even though the current law prohibits all such practices,” said Emmanuel de Merode in a statement put out by the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN), which oversees the park.

The ICCN said the 78,000-hectare (193,000-acre) reserve remained a protected area and called on the population to be “extremely vigilant” in the face of scams by illegal sellers.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 28, 2008
A juvenile gorilla leans on the shoulder of an adult male that will one day become a Silver back (R) in a clearing on the slopes of Mount Mikeno in the Virunga National Park on November 28, 2008. The park is home to 200 of the world’s last 700 mountain gorillas. . (Photo by Roberto SCHMIDT / AFP)

The Virunga National Park — a sanctuary for mountain gorillas and many other protected species — is the oldest nature reserve in Africa, dating back to 1925.

But dozens of armed groups are engaged in all kinds of criminal activity on the park’s territory, on the border with Rwanda and Uganda.

In April, an attack by gunmen left 12 rangers and six other people dead.