Two British tourists kidnapped in Democratic Republic of Congo have been released

A Virunga National Park official said the Britons were receiving support and medical attention

Chloe Farand
Sunday 13 May 2018 15:14 BST
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Two Britons who were kidnapped by an armed group while visiting the Virunga National Park have been released following an operation by the Congolese army and park rangers to rescue them
Two Britons who were kidnapped by an armed group while visiting the Virunga National Park have been released following an operation by the Congolese army and park rangers to rescue them

The two British tourists who were kidnapped in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been released, foreign secretary Boris Johnson has said.

The pair, reported to be two men, were abducted alongside their driver during an ambush by an armed group while visiting the Virunga National Park on Friday.

Rachel Masika Baraka, a 25-year-old park ranger who was travelling with them was killed in the ambush and the driver was also injured when the two men were seized.

In a statement, Mr Johnson said: "I am delighted to announce that two British nationals who were held hostage in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been released.

"I pay tribute to the DRC authorities and the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation for their tireless help during this terrible case.

"My thoughts are now with the family of Virunga Park ranger Rachel Makissa Baraka who was killed during the kidnapping, and with the injured driver and the released British nationals as they recover from this traumatic incident."

In a statement, the Virunga National Park said Ms Baraka had been critically injured in the ambush and died of her injuries in a nearby hospital.

Park director, Emmanuel de Merode, said Ms Baraka was one of the park’s 26 female rangers and was "highly committed, showing true bravery in her work".

He added the park had lost eight rangers in 2018 alone, "a stark reminder of the level of risk they undertake on a daily basis to help conserve the park’s wildlife and protect local communities".

Officials at the park said the two British tourists were receiving support and medical attention and that Congolese authorities and senior park staff were working with the Foreign Office to repatriate them to the UK.

Director of the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation thanked his "brave team" for ensuring a swift resolution of the incident.

The release of the two Britons comes after the Congolese army and park rangers launched an operation to rescue them on Saturday.

The Virunga National Park, a world heritage site located in the eastern part of the country, is home to about a quarter of the world's critically endangered mountain gorillas.

Despite being one of the country's most dangerous places, the park has attracted growing numbers of tourists hoping to get a glimpse of the gorillas.

The Foreign Office advises against all travel to the eastern side of the DRC, stating: "The security situation in eastern DRC remains unstable. The continued presence of armed groups, military operations against them, intercommunal violence and an influx of refugees from neighbouring countries all contribute to a deterioration in the political, security and humanitarian situation. There are continued reports of kidnappings, including of staff from international NGOs.

"Tourists in eastern DRC have been known to be left very vulnerable as a result of trying to travel independently without escorted transport, and the risk of kidnap or injury as a result of armed or criminal activity remains high."

The number of kidnappings in the eastern part of the DRC has increased in recent years,.

According to Human Rights Watch, hostages are being taken to obtain a ransom and most cases include Congolese people rather than Westerners. The NGO said kidnappers typically operate in groups of up to a dozen or more people, and are often heavily armed with Kalashnikovs and other military assault weapons.

Militias and armed groups have been roaming the area since the end of the country's bloody civil war in 2003 but a recent surge in violence saw five rangers and a driver killed in an ambush last month, raising the total number of ranger killed in the area to 175.

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