5 Congo rangers killed in joint army operation to rescue US journalist

KINSHASA, July 16 (Reuters) - Five park rangers were killed in a joint operation with the army to rescue an American journalist and three park rangers, who went missing in a wildlife reserve in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a local official said on Sunday.

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A way of life is dying for Congo's Pygmies
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A way of life is dying for Congo's Pygmies
Habimana, 45, stands in front of her house, at Kagorwa Pygmy camp on Idjwi island in the Democratic Republic of Congo, November 25, 2016. Habimana has lived alone with her four daughters since her husband died of malaria in 2014. REUTERS/Therese Di Campo
Kavuha, 73, repairs a container at Kagorwa Pygmy camp on Idjwi island in the Democratic Republic of Congo, November 22, 2016. REUTERS/Therese Di Campo
Mwenyezi, 36, plays a guitar at Kagorwa Pygmy camp on Idjwi island in the Democratic Republic of Congo, November 25, 2016. REUTERS/Therese Di Campo 
A Bahavu woman stands (L) as Pygmy women sell pottery in the Bahavu village of Bugarula on Idjwi island in the Democratic Republic of Congo, November 23, 2016. REUTERS/Therese Di Campo 
People sing and dance at Kagorwa Pygmy camp on Idjwi island in the Democratic Republic of Congo, May 18, 2016. REUTERS/Therese Di Campo 
A woman boils cassava greens as she breastfeeds at Kagorwa Pygmy camp on Idjwi island in the Democratic Republic of Congo, May 18, 2016. REUTERS/Therese Di Campo
People gather around a fire in Kagorwa Pygmy camp on Idjwi island in the Democratic Republic of Congo, November 23, 2016. REUTERS/Therese Di Campo
A child tries to re-light a fire at Kagorwa Pygmy camp on Idjwi island in the Democratic Republic of Congo, November 23, 2016. REUTERS/Therese Di Campo
A nurse (R), prepares to give an injection to Voyage, 40, a Pygmy man who is suffering from a wound on his finger that has turned gangrenous, at the health centre in the village of Bugarula on Idjwi island in the Democratic Republic of Congo, November 24, 2016. REUTERS/Therese Di Campo
A Bahavu landlord (L) and Pygmy workers have an argument about wages, on Idjwi island in the Democratic Republic of Congo, November 24, 2016. REUTERS/Therese Di Campo 
A woman, 60, who is suffering from malaria rests in her house at Kagorwa Pygmy camp on Idjwi island in the Democratic Republic of Congo, November 22, 2016. The woman died from her illness a few days later. REUTERS/Therese Di Campo 
Men repair fishing nets, at Kagorwa Pygmy camp on Idjwi island in the Democratic Republic of Congo, November 25, 2016. REUTERS/Therese Di Campo 
A 10-year-old Pygmy girl laughs as she works weeding the land of a Bahavu farmer on the shore of Lake Kivu on Idjwi island in the Democratic Republic of Congo, November 24, 2016. REUTERS/Therese Di Campo
Children hold used syringes, which they found discarded near Kagorwa Pygmy camp on Idjwi island in the Democratic Republic of Congo, November 22, 2016. REUTERS/Therese Di Campo
Mwenyezi, 36, washes her baby who is suffering from fever, at Kagorwa Pygmy camp on Idjwi island in the Democratic Republic of Congo, November 24, 2016. Mwenyezi cannot afford to take her baby for medical care. Her baby has scars from "bleeding," which some Pygmies use to try and treat certain diseases. REUTERS/Therese Di Campo
A woman makes a clay pot at Kagorwa Pygmy camp on Idjwi island in the Democratic Republic of Congo, November 23, 2016. REUTERS/Therese Di Campo
A Pygmy woman, 20, shakes a pendo, a musical instrument made from a metal box filled with gravel, to calm her crying child, at Kagorwa Pygmy camp on Idjwi island in the Democratic Republic of Congo, November 22, 2016. REUTERS/Therese Di Campo
Habimana, 45, poses for a portrait at Kagorwa Pygmy camp, on Idjwi island in the Democratic Republic of Congo, November 25, 2016. REUTERS/Therese Di Campo
Manguiste, 24, sleeps at home in Kagorwa Pygmy camp on Idjwi island in the Democratic Republic of Congo, November 22, 2016. REUTERS/Therese Di Campo
Women look for clay soil, which they use to make pottery near Kagorwa Pygmy camp on Idjwi island in the Democratic Republic of Congo, November 23, 2016. REUTERS/Therese Di Campo
A boy plays football, at Kagorwa Pygmy camp on Idjwi island in the Democratic Republic of Congo, November 22, 2016. REUTERS/Therese Di Campo 
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Gunmen attacked the group late on Friday in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in Mombasa territory. Some others in the group, including two Dutch journalists, escaped.

Mombasa administrator Alfred Bongwalanga said security forces and park rangers had launched a rescue operation that located the missing members of the group. It was not immediately clear how the rangers were killed.

"There are five dead. They are all park rangers who were involved in the operation. They had been backing the army," he told Reuters by telephone.

Cosma Wilungula, the head of Congo's park service, confirmed that the journalist and rangers had been rescued from a group of Mai Mai militia fighters involved in mining gold inside the reserve.

While he said two rangers had been killed in the initial attack he had no information on casualties during 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, referring to the initial attack.

Eastern Congo has been the theater of numerous wars and uprisings over the last two decades, and rebels, militia fighters and bandits still present a security risk in many areas.

Park rangers trying to protect dwindling populations of elephants and gorillas often clash with poachers and other armed groups who exploit minerals, wildlife and other resources.

(Reporting by Benoit Nyemba; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Louise Ireland, Greg Mahlich)


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