February 16, 2019
GOMA (Reuters) – Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park has reopened after the deadly ambush of a tourist group led to its closure last year over security fears, the park’s director said on Saturday.
Virunga sits on the forest-cloaked volcanoes of central Africa and is home to over half the global population of mountain gorillas.
It was closed after two Britons and their Congolese driver were kidnapped last May by gunmen in the east of the park. They were released three days later, but a ranger was killed trying to defend them..
“We have taken enough time to be sure of an improvement of security for visitors,” Virunga’s director Emmanuel Demerode told Reuters.
The park reopened to tourists on Feb. 15, he said.
It is Africa’s oldest national park and largest tropical rainforest reserve, covering 7,800 sq km (3,000 sq miles).
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.
But armed militia still control large swathes of territory in and around it, 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,” Demerode said.
(Reporting by Fiston Mahamba; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Mark Potter)