DAKAR, June 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Huge swathes
of forest land in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga
National Park are being destroyed for valuable charcoal by
criminals backing one of the region's most notorious rebel
groups, a rights group said on Monday.
Congo's illegal charcoal trade - worth an estimated $35
million a year - is fuelling the widespread deforestation of
Africa's oldest national park, and a range of crimes including
murder, forced labour and sex slavery, the Enough Project said.
Charcoal traffickers are helping to finance the Democratic
Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel group linked
to Rwanda's 1994 genocide, according to a report by the Enough
Project, a policy group fighting to prevent genocide and
The rebel group, which consists of former soldiers and Hutu
militiamen behind the genocide, has waged wars against other
armed groups and the government and is believed to be at the
heart of instability in the region, observers say.
Ethnic rivalries, foreign invasions and competition for land
have stoked conflict among eastern Congo's dozens of rebel
groups over the last two decades, costing millions of lives.
"Peacebuilding in Congo will be a losing game without
addressing the complex business networks operating in the east,"
said the Enough Project's senior policy analyst Holly Dranginis.
Covering some 3,000 square miles (7,770 square kilometres),
Virunga is Africa's most bio-diverse national park, a UNESCO
world heritage site, and home to endangered mountain gorillas.
The charcoal from Virunga, called ndobo, is made by cutting
down and burning trees in the park, and its trade is one of the
FDLR's most lucrative businesses, the Enough Project said.
The rebel group coerces local people to produce ndobo,
killing or enslaving those who resist, the group's report said.
Demand for the charcoal is concentrated in Congo, yet
smugglers also transport it to Uganda and Rwanda, where old
growth forests have nearly disappeared, according to the report.
While the state is responding to the FDLR's other illicit
activities, such as mineral smuggling and elephant poaching,
little has been done to tackle the charcoal trade, the report
Given that households across the region depend on charcoal
as their main fuel source, law enforcement and military efforts
to end its trade must be backed by alternative fuel initiatives
to prevent a fuel shortage among millions of people, it said.
"Time is running out to address the charcoal trade, which
has operated for years with few successful interventions,"
Dranginis said in a statement as the report was released.
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Ros Russell; Please
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