Two Britons who were kidnapped and held hostage in the Democratic Republic of Congo are lucky they were not killed, a local human rights worker has said.
Hervé Nsabimana, who is based near the area of the Virunga National Park where doctors Bethan Davies and Robert Jesty were captured, told Sky News it was “extraordinary” that they had been freed.
“Being taken hostage and coming back alive, it’s really something extraordinary, especially as the ransom was not paid,” said Mr Nsabimana, who works for the CODHAS organisation.
“Usually here, when someone is taken hostage and taken to the forest, we discuss money until they are freed.
“Most of the people who are kidnapped are killed if money isn’t rapidly mobilised. They are killed, women are raped, and children are recruited into their militia.”
Ms Davies and Mr Jesty, who are believed to have worked for Kings College Hospital in London, were on a trip to see gorillas when their vehicle was ambushed north of the city of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, on Friday.
On Sunday, the park – a UNESCO world heritage site covering 3,000 square miles on the border with Uganda and Rwanda – announced that they had been released and were “receiving support and medical attention”.
The pair later said in a statement they were “very relieved that there has been a positive outcome” and “very grateful for the excellent support we have received”.
But a 25-year-old park ranger who was protecting them, Rachel Masika Baraka, was killed and their driver was also kidnapped for a reported ransom of $200,000.
Park director Emmanuel de Merode described her as “highly committed”, adding that she had shown “true bravery in her work” as one of the park’s 26 female rangers.
Virunga, which is home to around a quarter of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas, said Ms Baraka was trying to protect the two passengers and the driver when it was attacked by armed assailants.
Mr Nsabimana said hostage-taking is a common tactic of militia groups operating in the national park.
In the same week, at least 12 local people were kidnapped and three are still being held hostage. Whole communities are often forced to come together to help pay the ransoms.
“There are no houses in the forest, you are very exposed to the environment,” Mr Nsabimana added.
“Hostages don’t know what’s going to happen, they don’t know if they’ll be left to live. When they come back, they are very weak and very stressed.”
The Foreign Office has refused to explain the circumstances of Ms Davies and Mr Jesty’s release, but Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he was “delighted”.
He added: “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 Masika Baraka who was killed during the kidnapping, and with the injured driver and the released Britons as they recover from this traumatic incident.”
It is not known if British forces were involved in the operation, but the negotiation was led by the Congolese military.
Mr Nsabimana said he thinks that international pressure on the Congolese authorities helped to get the captives freed relatively quickly.
“The Congolese military was under pressure and because of that they worked hard,” he explained.
“They were in the forest since Saturday night and stayed until Sunday afternoon.
“We are congratulating ourselves, but the military doesn’t employ as much effort with other kidnappings of Congolese people.”
The park has experienced an increase in violence in recent months, with armed groups staging a series of raids to steal resources, particularly charcoal.
Last month, five young rangers and a driver in the park were killed in an ambush.
It was the deadliest attack in recent years and took the total number of rangers killed in the park to 175.