Officials blame Mai-Mai militia for killing six park guards in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga National Park, home to about a quarter of the world's critically endangered mountain gorillas.
At least six rangers in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga National Park, famous for its mountain gorillas, have been killed in an attack officials blamed on a militia group.
"Mai-Mai (militia) carried out an ambush at Nyamitwitwi. The provisional toll is six park rangers killed along with two Mai-Mai," local government delegate Alphonse Kambale told AFP news agency on Sunday.
Provincial lawmaker Elie Nzaghani confirmed the tally from Nyamitwitwi in Rutshuru area of eastern North Kivu province.
"We confirm that a group of armed men attacked our positions in the region of Nyamitwitwi, a central sector of the park in the territory of Rutshuru" in North Kivu province, the park's spokesman Olivier Mukisya told AFP by email.
Risky job for park rangers
The UNESCO World Heritage site is caught up in persistent unrest in the province, where a plethora of armed groups are battling for control of rich mineral deposits.
Mukisya said six rangers were killed and another was seriously injured in the attack around 9:30 am.
Virunga park, created in 1925, covers some 7,800 square kilometres and is home to about a quarter of the world's population of critically endangered mountain gorillas.
Nearly 700 armed rangers work in Virunga where sources say at least 200 have paid with their lives in attacks going back more than a decade.
The gorillas are poaching targets and their habitat is being destroyed by deforestation in part to supply charcoal. Human rights groups say armed groups are controlling the industry to support a rebellion.
Various rival armed groups have repeatedly clashed over land and resources and stoked tensions in North Kivu, which like the rest of eastern DRC has been riven by decades of conflict.
Mai-Mai militia groups have been accused of killing hundreds of civilians over the years.
Mai-Mai (the word comes from the Swahili for water) sprinkle themselves with water before going into combat in the belief it affords them protection.