Two Britons held hostage in the Democratic Republic of Congo have said they are “very relieved” after they were released unharmed.
In a statement issued through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Bethan Davies and Robert Jesty said: “We are very relieved that there has been a positive outcome to the kidnapping and are very grateful for the excellent support we have received. We do not plan to comment further.”
A female wildlife ranger accompanying the pair was killed.
Last month, five wildlife rangers and their driver were killed by gunmen from one of Congo’s Mai-Mai militias, which first formed to resist Rwandan armed groups in the late 1990s.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Sunday: “I am delighted to announce that two British nationals who were held hostage in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been released.
“I pay tribute to the DRC authorities and the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation for their tireless help during this terrible case.
“My thoughts are now with the family of Virunga Park ranger Rachel Makissa Baraka who was killed during the kidnapping, and with the injured driver and the released British nationals as they recover from this traumatic incident.”
The pair, who have not been named, were kidnapped in Virunga National Park.
Located in Congo’s North Kivu province, the park is one of the most important conservation sites in the world, covering 7,800 square kilometres (3,011 miles) — three times the size of Luxembourg.
The park, its rangers and the gorillas they protect are under constant threat from poachers as well as armed groups vying for power in the aftermath of a devastating civil war that claimed five million lives from 1994-2003.
British ambassador to the DRC, John Murton, tweeted his thanks to the country’s authorities for helping free the two people.
Earlier in April, a ranger told the Guardian: “This is not an easy profession. Losing your friends and colleagues is very painful. But we chose to do this, and we know the risks.”
The guards became famous in the 2014 film, Virunga, which followed the stories of four people trying to protect the endangered gorillas from the threats of poaching, war and the destruction of their habitat through oil exploration.
Last month, 11 people were estimated to have been killed by rebels from a Ugandan Islamist group called the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) during a raid on the city of Beni, close to Virunga, Mayor Nyonyi Bwanakawa told Reuters.
The government and United Nations have blamed the spree of massacres near Beni since 2014 on the ADF, but independent experts say some Congolese soldiers have also been involved.