Tree-climbing lions are among the perils facing thousands of Congolese refugees as they flee into neighbouring Uganda to escape a new upsurge of fighting.

The route to sanctuary leads through the rugged Virunga and Queen Elizabeth National Parks, prowled by a group of lions famed for hiding in trees, leopards and other dangerous beasts.

Katsuva Paluku, the head a family of four that straggled into the refugee camp at Ishasha from Rutshuru in Democratic Republic of Congo, said two women vanished in the park.

“We fear they’ve been eaten by lions,” the 33-year-old told Reuters. “When people move in small groups of three or four, the lions don’t spare them. What we did was to wait for other families and then walk in a big group of 30 or 40.”

Forces loyal to Congolese Tutsi rebel leader General Laurent Nkunda launched a new offensive in August, routing government troops and seizing swathes of territory in North Kivu province.

Although he said he would cease fire last month, his men have continued attacking Congolese and Rwandan Hutu militia allies of the government. Nkunda says some of the Hutus were involved in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide of Tutsis.

Scores of Congolese policemen are among more than 15,000 people who have fled across the Ugandan border in recent days. At least they had vehicles to flee in and assault rifles to fend off any hungry animals.

“It’s true some people have been attacked by lions but we don’t have numbers or names,” said one park ranger who also fled to Ishasha. “Now we’re refugees here, we cannot do anything.”

Local police warned a Reuters team not to walk outside the camp after 9 p.m. because of attacks by the big cats



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