A senior United Nations official today condemned the attack against the chief warden of Virunga National Park, and urged the international community to support the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in protecting not only its World Heritage sites but also those who safeguard them.
Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said she learned with "distress and anger" of the attack on Emmanuel de Merode, who was reportedly wounded when his vehicle came under fire as he was travelling from the eastern city of Goma to the town of Rumangabo.
It is "unacceptable," she said, that professionals such as those of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) run such risks to protect World Heritage.
"The wardens of ICCN parks demonstrate great courage in their daily work and I urge the authorities of the Democratic Republic of Congo to shed light on this attack and bring the perpetrators to justice," said Ms. Bokova.
"I also encourage the international community to support the Democratic Republic of the Congo's efforts to provide adequate protection for its World Heritage sites and those who look after them."
The Director-General voiced grave concern over growing violence in the World Heritage sites in DRC, where ICCN personnel have experienced heavy loss of life. Many of its staff have been injured defending Virunga National Park, the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and the other World Heritage sites in the country. In Virunga alone, 140 to 150 wardens have been hit since 1996.
Virunga National Park was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1979 for its exceptional biodiversity which includes rare endemic species such as the mountain gorilla.
The site has also been on the List of World Heritage in Danger since 1994 due to the impact of the conflict in the Great Lakes region. The Park is also threatened by petrol prospection projects which UNESCO considers to be incompatible with its World Heritage status.