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    Saturday, 12 May 2018

    Three Foreigners kidnapped in DR Congo's Virunga park, Guard killed

    Unidentified attackers on Friday killed a guard and kidnapped three people, including two British tourists, in DR Congo's Virunga national park, a famed haven for gorillas and other endangered species, authorities said. "I confirm that our vehicle was attacked. Three people were kidnapped, including two tourists," park director Emmanuel de Merode said. Park spokesman Joel Wengamula said a guard was killed and added that two of the people kidnapped were British. On April 9, five rangers and a driver were killed in an ambush in the park, which was established in 1925.

    One of the most important conservation sites in the world, it covers 7,800 square kilometres (3,011 miles), or three times the size of Luxembourg, along a swathe of eastern DR Congo abutting the border with Uganda and Rwanda.
    Virunga is home to about a quarter of the world's population of critically-endangered mountain gorillas, as well as to eastern lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, okapis, lions, elephants and hippos.
    But it is located in DR Congo's North Kivu province, where armed groups are fighting for control of territorial and natural resources, and poaching is a major threat.
    De Merode, a Belgian national, was himself wounded in a road ambush between the park and Goma, the capital of North Kivu, in May 2014.
    On April 2, a park ranger died in an attack by armed men. He was guarding the site of a hydroelectric plant that is under construction.
    A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are in close contact with the authorities in Democratic Republic of the Congo following an incident involving two British nationals, and our staff are providing support to their families.”The park has seen rising violence in recent months, with armed gangs fighting over the area's natural resources, in particular its charcoal. Last year, a fifth of the site’s southern sector was deforested owing to illegal charcoal production, the park said.
    DRC is still recovering from a bloody civil war that raged between 1997 and 2003, and the recent surge in violence has concerned aid agencies, who warned the country was “on a cliff edge”.
    Last month, five rangers and a driver were killed in a militia ambush, the park said.
    It was the deadliest attack in recent years and took the total number of rangers killed to 175.
    The rising death toll has earned the park, which is a Unesco world heritage site, a reputation as one of the most dangerous conservation projects on the planet.
    The park spans 3,000 square miles on the DRC’s border with Uganda and Rwanda and is home to to around a quarter of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas and other endangered species, as well as lions, elephants, hippos and a host of rare bird species.
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