Congo bars tourists from national park

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BUKIMA, NORTH KIVU, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO - NOVEMBER 25: The first sighting of Mountain Gorilla by Congolese Conservation Authorities in over 15 months, North Kivu, DRC, November 25, 2008. There appear to be at least 5 new births in the Kabirizi family. The Gorilla Sector of the Park has been occupied by the rebel movement CNDP under rebel Congolese Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda. Since September 2007 no ICCN Ranger has set foot in this sector, almost all had to flee the fighting and it has not been safe to return. Recent violence in the region has seen CNDP extend its power in the region and it now controls over 50% of the park and all of the Southern section. Emmanuel De Merode, the Director of Virunga National Park, has performed some remarkable diplomacy since the recent fighting and has succesfully negotiated with CNDP and General Nkunda to return the ICCN Rangers to the Park. This is a fragile process but so far 120 courageous Rangers are back at the Southern Headquarters at Rumangabo and there is a camp in the Gorilla Sector at Bukima which has begun a Gorilla census to determine the effects of the war on the mountain Gorilla population. It is a remarkable case of conservation winning out over politics. The DRC had just over 200 of the extremely rare mountain Gorillas, of which there are only 680 in the world. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Edit by Getty Images)

Rangers in the Democratic Republic of Congo said on Tuesday that they have stopped tourists from entering Virunga National Park following investigations into the kidnapping of two Britons on Sunday.

Gunmen ambushed Robert Jesty, Bethan Davies and their driver in Congo’s volatile eastern borderlands on Friday and released them three days later.

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Park ranger Rachel Makissa Baraka, 25, was killed trying to defend them.

“The suspension of tourism is being undertaken as an additional precautionary measure whilst an investigation is undertaken surrounding the recent events,” authorities said in a statement.

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It said the suspension would remain in place until June 4.

Eastern Congo has seen successive waves of violence over the past quarter century and was at the epicentre of two wars between 1996 and 2003 that killed millions, mainly through hunger and disease.

Rebel groups and militias still control large swathes of the territory.

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No fewer than 175 rangers have died protecting the park, which is in the rugged mountains and volcanic plains adjacent to Rwanda and Uganda.

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Since tourism was relaunched in 2014, Virunga National Park – Africa’s oldest national park – has received more than 17,000 visitors, keen to see its rare mountain gorillas or climb the active Nyiragongo volcano.

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