Sunday, October 21, 2018

Congo at risk for Ebola epidemic caused by the same people who poach wildlife.

Congo rebels kill 13, abduct children at Ebola treatment center

JOHANNESBURG — Congolese rebels killed 13 civilians and abducted a dozen children in an attack at the center of the latest deadly Ebola outbreak, Congo’s military said Sunday, as the violence threatened to again force the suspension of crucial virus containment efforts.
The Allied Democratic Forces rebels attacked Congolese army positions and several neighborhoods of Beni on Saturday and into Sunday, Capt. Mak Hazukay Mongha told The Associated Press. The U.N. peacekeeping mission said its troops exchanged fire with rebels on Saturday in the Mayangose area of Beni during an attack on civilians.
Angry over the attack, Beni residents on Sunday morning carried four of the bodies to the town hall, where police dispersed them with tear gas. The ADF rebels have killed hundreds of civilians in recent years and are just one of several rebel groups active in Congo’s far northeast.
Late last month, Ebola outbreak containment efforts had to be suspended for days in Beni after a deadly rebel attack, deeply complicating work to find and track suspected contacts of infected people. Since then, many of the new confirmed Ebola cases have been reported in Beni as the rate of new cases overall has more than doubled.
This new attack comes as another armed group shot and killed two medical agents with the Congolese army — the first time health workers have been killed by rebels in this Ebola outbreak.
It is a “dark day” for everyone fighting the deadly virus, Congo’s health minister said late Saturday.
Mai Mai rebels surged from the forest and opened fire on the unarmed agents with the army’s rapid intervention medical unit at an entrance to Butembo city, the health ministry said.
The daytime attack appeared premeditated, with civilians present left unharmed, the statement said. The medical agents had been placed in “dangerous zones” to assist national border health officials.
Confirmed Ebola cases have now reached 200, including 117 deaths. Aid groups have expressed alarm after the insecurity and sometimes hostile community resistance led the rate of new cases to more than double this month.
Health workers in this outbreak, declared on Aug. 1, have described hearing gunshots daily, operating under the armed escort of U.N. peacekeepers or Congolese security forces and having to end work by sundown to lower the risk of attack.
Congo’s health ministry has reported “numerous aggressions” against health workers, and early this month two Red Cross volunteers were severely injured in a confrontation with wary community members in a region traumatized by decades of fighting and facing an Ebola outbreak for the first time.
“Health agents are not a target for armed groups,” Health Minister Oly Ilunga said. “Our agents will continue to go into the field each day to fulfill the mission entrusted to them. They are true heroes and we will continue to take all necessary measures so that they can do their job safely.”
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization said it was “deeply concerned” by the outbreak but that it does not yet warrant being declared a global emergency. An outbreak must be “an extraordinary event” that might cross borders, requiring a coordinated response. Confirmed cases have been found near the heavily traveled border with Uganda.
In the latest sign of the rumors that pose another serious challenge to containing the deadly virus, the health ministry said 22 youth in Butembo dug up the body of an Ebola victim and opened the body bag, “wanting to verify that no organs had been taken from the body by health workers.”
They ended up touching the highly infectious bodily fluids, the ministry said. “The next day, they agreed to be vaccinated,” joining the more than 20,000 people who have received vaccinations so far.

Patrick Muhayirwa was trapped in an ambush while patrolling to protect gorillas in Africa’s oldest national park
Patrick Muhayirwa
 Wildlife ranger Patrick Muhayirwa had only just joined the park service in Virunga. Photograph: Virunga
A 26-year-old wildlife ranger has been gunned down by militia operating in the Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
According to park authorities, Patrick Prince Muhayirwa was part of a group of rangers and DRC army personnel patrolling the huge park to prevent poaching.
Virunga is home to about a quarter of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas, which poachers target for bushmeat. The elephant population in the park has plummeted to less than 400.
On Wednesday, when the group reached the shores of Lake Edward, near the Ugandan border, they were ambushed from the front and the back by what witnesses described as members of the Mai Mai militia. Muhayirwa was killed in the ensuing gunfight. He had only recently joined the rangers service, which is tasked with protecting the the park.
“Ranger Muhayirwa was a young and highly-dedicated ranger and the park is in deep mourning for his loss,” said park director Emmanuel de Merode in a statement. “We wish to extend our sincerest condolences to his family. His death is a tragic loss for Virunga national park, and we are ever grateful for his service to his country.”
Another ranger, Fikos Kavedo, who survived the ambush with a bullet wound to the leg killed two rebels before escaping the scene. He is currently receiving treatment.
Muhayirwa’s death continues a pattern of ambushes of rangers within the park. In March, two rangers were killed in the line of duty while a third was reported missing during an attack also credited to the Mai Mai militia. To date, more than 150 rangers have died in service to Virunga national park.
Worldwide, more than 100 rangers die every year, according to Sean Willmore, the president of the International Ranger Federation and the Thin Green Line Foundation, in an opinion piece for the Guardian this week. “Surely if a country lost 100 of their soldiers, each and every year, we would call it a war,” he said.
In further violence this week, a journalist who had reported on illegal logging in Myanmar was found, apparently beaten to death, on the side of a highway on Tuesday.
To support rangers and their families, visit the Thin Green Line Foundation website.
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