British tourists kidnapped in Virunga National Park

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GB news 24 desk//

Two British tourists are among three people to have been kidnapped in a national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The director of the Virunga National Park – known for its endangered mountain gorillas – said a park ranger with the pair in a vehicle was killed.

The incident took place just north of the city of Goma, North Kivu province.

The Foreign Office said it was in close contact with the authorities in the DRC and was supporting the families.

Local media reports say the ranger shot dead was female and acting as a guard, while the UK citizens were taken along with their Congolese driver.

Park director Emmanuel de Merode told the AFP news agency: “I confirm that our vehicle was attacked. Three people were kidnapped, including two tourists.”

2,000 militia

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

It is a Unesco world heritage site and is home to critically-endangered mountain gorillas as well as lions, elephants and hippos.

In April, Mr de Merode, told the BBC World Service that recent attacks were part of “a bigger picture which involves the trafficking of natural resources”.

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

There have been a number of killings and kidnappings in recent years.

Five rangers and a driver were killed in the park on 9 April.

A week earlier a park ranger died in an attack by armed men as he guarded the construction site of a hydroelectric plant.

Travel risks

BBC Africa editor Will Ross said poachers are also active in the park, which is under threat due to the illegal felling of trees to make charcoal and plans for oil exploration.

Wildlife authorities have tried to protect it but 170 rangers have been killed over the last 20 years, he added.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against all but essential travel to Goma and urged Britons not to go beyond the city.

The advice, which was last updated two days ago, said tourists are vulnerable if travelling without escorted transport in the eastern part of the country and the “risk of kidnap or injury as a result of armed or criminal activity remains high.”

It said that UK government staff are not always in the area and the British embassy’s ability to offer consular assistance may be “severely limited”.

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