African wildlife charity with Prince Harry as board member investigating rape and torture claims against eco-guards

A wildlife charity which has Prince Harry as a board member is investigating allegations of human rights abuses by its guards in the Republic of the Congo.

African Parks said it was "encouraging anyone with knowledge" of any abuse to come forward and said the investigation was its "highest priority".

In addition to sitting on the board, the Duke of Sussex is also a former president of the non-profit organisation, which manages 22 national parks and protected areas across 12 countries.

Guards managed and paid by the charity had been engaged in the beating, rape and torture of indigenous people in the rainforests of the Republic of the Congo, according to a report in the Mail On Sunday.

The charity said it had been made aware of the allegations last year after a letter from Survival International - but added the human rights organisation had "chosen not to co-operate, despite repeated requests" for more details.

African Parks was founded in 2000 and aims to protect Africa's national parks and advance wildlife conservation around the world.

It manages more than 20 million hectares (49.4 million acres) of protected zones - or an area nearly as big as England, Scotland and Wales combined.

'A zero-tolerance policy'

A statement from the African Parks board and chief executive said: "African Parks has a zero-tolerance policy for any form of abuse and is committed to upholding the rights of local and indigenous people.

"We are aware of the serious allegations regarding human rights abuses by eco-guards against local people living adjacent to Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Republic of Congo, which have recently received media attention.

"We became aware of these allegations last year via a board member who received a letter from Survival International.

"We immediately launched an investigation through an external law firm based on the information we had available, while also urging Survival International to provide any and all facts they had.

"It's unfortunate that they have chosen not to co-operate, despite repeated requests, and we continue to ask for their assistance.

"This is an active, ongoing investigation that is our highest priority as an organisation, and we encourage anyone with knowledge of any abuses to report them to us or to the Congolese law enforcement authorities which will assist with the investigation and ensure that the perpetrators of any abuses are brought to justice."

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On claims Survival International has not been co-operating, the head of the organisation's conservation campaign, Fiore Longo, said: "It's not up to us to give them details.

"It's their responsibility when we raise a problem to go there and investigate."