British oil group says employee snatched in DR. Congo

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A South African working for a British oil company has been kidnapped in the volatile eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, his company said, as the army blamed Rwandan rebels for the attack.

The man was kidnapped Monday while travelling with Congolese soldiers in the Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the army said, accusing Hutu rebels from neighbouring Rwanda long based in the park.

"Two South African expatriates and four soldiers were kidnapped yesterday but only one expatriate is still detained," SOCO Exploration and Production DRC official Serge Lescaut told AFP.

The two expatriates were on a mission to secure the volatile area, Lescaut said. The company in June 2010 clinched a contract to explore for oil reserves there.

A provincial army spokesman said Rwanda rebels and Congolese army deserters were behind the kidnapping in the park which is in the volatile Nord-Kivu province where rebels are active.

"There was an attack around 4:00 pm by Hutu Rwandan rebels and deserters from the Congolese army, in the middle of Virunga National Park, against the vehicle of two expatriates from SOCO.

"One was released," Lieutenant Colonel Sylvain Ekenge told AFP.

Villagers had seen Hutu rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) "in the bush with a white man", he said, describing the area on the border with Uganda as dangerous.

The army had launched operations to try to recover the hostage, he said.

The kidnapping was in the Katiguru area, north of the provincial capital Goma, he said.

SOCO Exploration and Production DRC is a subsidiary of SOCO International, a oil and gas exploration and production company headquartered in London that also works in Angola and in the Republic of Congo, and in Southeast Asia.

FDLR fighters killed three wildlife rangers and five government soldiers in January, according to the park's director. Another ranger was killed and one wounded in an attack a few days later.

The 7,800-square-kilometre (3,011-square-mile) park was established in 1925 and is the oldest in Africa. It was declared a UNESCO site in 1979.

It is home to around one-third of the world's population of rare mountain gorillas, as well as elephants, hippopotamus, buffalo and antelope.

Armed groups such as the FDLR as well as DR Congo soldiers slaughter animals in the park for food and cut downs its trees for fuel.

Local nongovernment organisations and the Congolese Institute for Nature Conversation oppose plans to explore for oil in the area.

Several armed groups have been active in Nord-Kivu province since the 1990s and they are regularly accused of violence against the civilian population, including rape and looting.

FDLR rebels have been operating out of eastern DR Congo since the aftermath of Rwanda's 1994 genocide by Hutus against the Tutsi minority. Some of its members are accused of being among the main perpetrators of the massacres.

© 2011 AFP

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