Published: Mon, May 14, 2018
Worldwide | By Sean Reid

Britons kidnapped in DR Congo gorilla sanctuary released

Britons kidnapped in DR Congo gorilla sanctuary released

Virunga National Park has seen rising violence in recent months as armed groups stage raids to steal resources, particularly charcoal.

Two British tourists have been released in eastern Congo two days after being kidnapped, according to announcements Sunday by Virunga National Park and the British foreign secretary.

Park ranger Rachel Masika Baraka was killed by the kidnappers; a driver was injured and released.

Park director Emmanuel de Merode, from Belgium, also paid tribute to Makissa Baraka, saying: "We are deeply saddened by the death of the eco-guard of the park, while protecting the passengers and driver". We wish to extend our deepest condolences to her family and our sincerest gratitude for her bravery and service to Congo.

The Foreign Office had been in contact with local authorities since the event took place.

The BBC's Louise Dewast, reporting from the country's capital Kinshasa, said there were armed groups operating in the park and there had been kidnappings before, with half involving a ransom demand.

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He said the park was protected by around 800 rangers but there were also estimated to be between 1,500 and 2,000 militia members in and around the park.

Congolese soldiers and park rangers have launched an operation to locate two British tourists kidnapped in the country's volatile eastern borderlands, an army spokesman said.

The national park, which runs along the border with Uganda and Rwanda, covers 3,000 sq miles (7,800 sq km).

The Foreign Office now - and before the kidnapping - advises against travelling to the area.

Founded in 1925, it is home to about a quarter of the world's critically endangered mountain gorillas.

Earlier in May, British NGO Global Witness published documents it said showed the Congolese government's plan to "declassify" over 20 percent of the area of the park to explore for oil.

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