Virunga National Park reopens months after attack on tourists

Two Britons were kidnapped and a ranger was killed in an ambush that forced Congolese park's closure

VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO - August 9, 2008: VIrunga National Park rangers, working for the International Gorilla Conservation Project walk back after gorilla tracking. There are some 700 mountain gorillas in the park lands that stradle the intersecting borders of Rwanda, Uganda and Congo. Currently in Congo, the area where the gorrillas live is controled by the rebel group CNDP, who has made it their mandate to protect the gorillas. It is very difficult for tourists to see them, because of the CNDP's control of the territory, and government checkpoints that must be crossed.
( Ryan Carter / The National ) *** Local Caption ***  RC016-Gorillas.JPGRC016-Gorillas.JPG
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A national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo made famous by an Oscar-winning documentary has reopened eight months after the kidnap of a tourist group and the murder of a park ranger.

Virunga National Park, long plagued by poachers and oil companies, was closed in July 2017 when two British tourists were abducted and held for three days. A ranger who came to their defence was shot and killed by a Congolese militia.

Gunmen attacked a vehicle taking the tourists from the city of Goma to their accommodation in the national park.

But park officials insist new security measures mean the park is safe to visit. Virunga reopened to tourists on Friday.

“We have taken enough time to be sure of an improvement of security for visitors,” Virunga’s director, Emmanuel de Merode, told Reuters.

It is Africa’s oldest national park and largest tropical rainforest reserve, covering 7,800 square kilometres.

Warfare in eastern Congo between 1996 and 2003 killed millions of people, mainly through hunger and disease. Since tourism was relaunched in 2014, Virunga has received more than 17,000 visitors.

A 2014 documentary on Netflix that focused on the conservation work of Virunga’s park rangers brought it more ­attention and shed light on the plight of the park with the various special interests at play there.

But militia still control large areas of territory in and around Virunga, and more than 175 rangers have been killed protecting the park.

“We continue to work on putting the security of our personnel and our visitors at the core of our operations,” Mr de Merode said.

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