(See update below)
Readers of the British press will wake up this morning to a sensational article published in the UK Independent about the bombing of mountain gorilla habitat during renewed fighting in Virunga National Park, Congo. There is no proof that the "gorillas" have been bombed, eaten, or killed by "rebel" armies, but it is certain that Congolese (FARDC) forces are shelling the M23 rebel army. It is only the reader who is shellacked by this article.
Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei) by Georgianne Nienaber
In previous erroneous reporting, the British press touted the arrest of rebel General Laurent Nkunda over a week before it actually happened in 2009. The result of Nkunda's ouster, without a blink from the western world, was that rapist, warlord and murderer Bosco (The Terminator) Ntaganda was put into place as the lynchpin for a phony peace accord. Now the Brits are hammering the former CNDP and the new rebel faction M23 with one outright lie and one unproven, but grievous, accusation.
CNDP stronghold 2009 by Georgianne Nienaber
Sunday's Independent article suggests that the CNDP, under General Laurent Nkunda, was responsible for the deaths of "nine mountain gorillas" between 2007 and 2008. The obvious implication is that rebel armies kill mountain gorillas.
In fact, in July 2007 a habituated family of mountain gorillas in the Rugendo family was attacked. Four females and one male (silverback) were killed. An infant went missing and was presumed dead. Other incidents brought the total number of dead gorillas to ten.
Once the grisly pictures of the slaughter were published around the world, public opinion became focused on placing the blame. Original suspects put forth by international media included the CNDP, poor villagers and charcoal traders. National Geographic got the story mostly wrong and partly right at the time and blamed villagers and charcoal traders. (the story has since been updated). Environmentalists were suggesting that they "had Nkunda where they wanted him," with no proof. Why did environmentalists hate Nkunda? He had taken over their private fiefdom at Jomba for his rebel base. Memories of murdered gorillas that were splashed on the cover of National Geographic require vengeance in a world with a five-minute attention span. This is especially true when NG claimed that the 2007 gorilla vistims were "eaten by rebels."
Charges for this sensational environmental crime were eventually brought against the former director of Virunga Park, Congolese Nature Conservation Institute (ICCN) member Honore Mashagiro. It was an inside job.
Nkunda and the CNDP were never publicly exonerated. Now, the M23 rebels are entrenched in the same gorilla territory. History repeats itself as more lies become "fact," and the mountain gorillas are used by the media to further a public relations agenda put forth by the Congolese government.
There is great pressure from the Congolese government, Rwanda, China and other robber barons of the Congo to quell the M23 rebellion. Suggestions that more gorillas may be killed will certainly galvanize public opinion against the M23. Once again, the gorilla population is being used in what looks like a propaganda war in the British press. There was absolutely no reason for the writer of the "Independent" article to get the history of the 2007 gorilla killings so egregiously wrong and try once again to pin an old falsehood on the CNDP.
The second accusation against the CNDP/M23 rebel group is that on May 9, "the rebels gunned down one Virunga park ranger and two Congolese soldiers. Twelve rangers have been killed on duty since the start of last year, and there are now four major rebel factions and a number of splinter groups operating in the park."
The words "the rebels" are in the lead sentence in the paragraph that follows a quote by Lieutenant Colonel Vianney Kazarama, an M23 spokesman. There is no proof whatsoever that M23 killed the park ranger, Paris Paluku, but the juxtaposition of the paragraphs clearly suggests that M23 killed him.
Is this simply sloppy reporting on the part of the Independent? Or are there bigger agendas behind this example of media malfeasance?
Consider what happened when Nkunda was betrayed by Rwanda in 2009. As reported in a white paper published by the International Crisis Group, "Rwanda had been uneasy with Nkunda's behaviour, and Kabila had a long history of personal antagonism towards him. Kigali was put under additional pressure, when Beijing lodged a protest with it over Nkunda's allegations regarding the beneficiaries of the economic contracts signed between China and the Congo."