An official in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo confirmed on Sunday that Congolese rangers were killed during an operation to rescue a United States journalist believed captured by a group of Mai Mai militia fighters on Friday.
A group of journalists and park rangers were in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in Mambasa territory in northeastern DRC, when they were attacked by a group of gunmen late on Friday. Some members of the group were able to escape, including two Dutch journalists. An American journalist was captured.
Alfred Bongwalanga, an administrator in Mambasa, said that security forces and park rangers launched a joint operation to rescue the kidnapped members of the group.
Details of how the rangers were killed were not immediately known.
"There are five dead. They are all park rangers who were involved in the operation. They had been backing the army," Bongwalanga told Reuters
The head of Congo's park service, Cosma Wilungula, confirmed that the journalist and rangers taken by the Mai Mai militia group were rescued. The militia group are reportedly involved in mining gold inside the reserve.
Wilungula was only able to confirm the deaths of two rangers killed during the initial attack. He had no information regarding the rescue.
"It's a zone that's not secure for us ... They were heavily armed and the rangers found themselves in an inferior position," Wilungula said.
Life is incredibly difficult for park rangers trying to protect the rapidly decreasing populations of elephant and gorillas in the reserve as a result of regular clashes with poachers and other armed groups exploiting minerals, wildlife and other resources in the reserve.