Five Congolese park rangers have been killed in an operation to rescue a US journalist and three other rangers, officials say.
The group had gone missing during a militia attack on the town of Mambasa in the Okapi wildlife reserve, in the northeast of the country, on Friday.
Cosma Wilungula, the head of DR Congo’s park service, told Reuters the gunmen were mining gold inside the reserve.
The mineral-rich east of the country has been wracked by decades of war.
The kidnapping happened when a group of armed men from the Mai Mai militia attacked a group of park rangers accompanying three foreign journalists, Radio Okapi reported.
During the exchange of fire, some of the group, including two Dutch journalists, were able to escape.
The Mai Mai describe themselves as “self defence” groups. Many were armed during the DR Congo war that ran from 1998 to 2003 and were never disarmed.
Park rangers working to protect wildlife regularly clash with the groups, who exploit minerals, wildlife and other resources.
The Okapi reserve covers nearly 14,000 sq km (5,400 sq miles) and protects part of the Ituri forest near the borders with South Sudan and Uganda.
6 DRC rangers safe; US journalist, 3 others still missing
Mambasa territory administrator Alfred Bongwalanga Efoloko confirmed that the six had been found. At least 10 people had gone missing after an attack Friday by the Mai Mai militia outside the town of Mambasa in DRC’s Okapi Wildlife Reserve, he said.
No details about the missing journalist was immediately available and authorities had no proof the attack was an abduction, he said. Army reinforcements have been deployed since Friday night to search for those missing, he said.
“I am optimistic they will all be found,” Efoloko told The Associated Press by telephone. “The forest is very big. Maybe they fled in another direction. According to testimony of their colleagues, the attack came as the team wanted to go have a meal” and there was a lot of crossfire.
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Two British journalists and five other park rangers, part of the same team, escaped after the attack, making their way to another Okapi reserve base, he said.
The park rangers are part of the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation.
The Centre for Studies of Peace and Defence of Human Rights said earlier Saturday that a journalist had disappeared with 11 park security guards. It also identified Friday’s attackers as the Mai-Mai SIMBA, saying they attacked in Bapela, 40km south of Mambasa. The group’s executive director, Omar Kavota, expressed concern for those missing.
A Congolese civilian was also kidnapped Friday near Mambasa by armed men, he said in a statement.
Kidnappings for ransom are common in eastern Congo.
A separate attack Saturday by the Mai-Mai in the country’s North Kivu province killed two soldiers.