Pygmies, soldier killed in clashes over DR Congo park
- In 2018, Pygmies began to move onto land inside the perimeter of Kahuzi-Biega National Park and started to cut down trees, mainly to make charcoal
- According to park authorities, Pygmies have destroyed vast acres of woodland — an act of deforestation that gnaws away at the habitat of endangered gorillas
Updated 51 min 14 sec ago
BUKAVU, DR Congo: Three Pygmies and a soldier were killed in clashes near DR Congo’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park, military sources and local officials said Wednesday, as calls grow for protection of the country’s indigenous peoples.
The national park, which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Monday, is a haven for critically endangered gorillas but faces an emerging threat from a conflict between rangers and local Pygmies, who claim they were robbed of ancestral lands when the park was extended in the 1970s.
The central African country’s parliament is currently considering a law to guarantee the rights of Pygmies.
Clashes erupted on Monday in the nearby village of Kabamba in South Kivu province, military sources and the territory’s administrator Thadee Miderho said Wednesday.
In addition to the four killed, others were wounded, they said.
The Pygmies wanted to retrieve bags of charcoal seized by the military, according to Miderho.
In 2018, Pygmies began to move onto land inside the park’s perimeter and started to cut down trees, mainly to make charcoal.
According to park authorities, Pygmies have destroyed vast acres of woodland — an act of deforestation that gnaws away at the gorillas’ habitat.
Their return led to open conflict between Pygmies and rangers in which people on both sides have been killed.
Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park celebrated 50 years of existence on Monday, priding itself as “a sanctuary and refuge” of eastern lowland gorillas.
Meanwhile a civil society group in the territory of Kabare wrote an open letter to UNESCO asking for it to help “save” the Pygmies.
“Fifty years later, the existence of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park = 50 years of suffering of our Pygmies brothers and sisters,” the group wrote.
In the capital Kinshasa, the National Assembly passed a bill on November 26 for the “protection and promotion of the rights of the indigenous Pygmy peoples,” which will now be considered by the Senate.
“In the Democratic Republic of Congo, unlike other indigenous ethnic groups, the Pygmies have not always received special attention as an indigenous group,” parliament acknowledged in a memorandum.
The proposed law guarantees the recognition of the culture of the Pygmies, easy access to justice and social services, and “full access to the land.”