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East Congo Bandits Kill Park Ranger, Kidnap Then Release Two Others

Armed bandits in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo killed a Congolese park ranger and briefly kidnapped two conservation workers, including a Frenchman, during an ambush last week, Congo's park service and a conservation group said Monday.

The unidentified bandits attacked a convoy of park rangers from South Kivu's Itombwe Reserve and representatives from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WSC) and World Wildlife Fund on Friday, said Cosmo Wilungula, director general of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature.

One park ranger was killed in the assault that occurred in the Itombwe Forest in South Kivu, while another was briefly taken hostage alongside a French WSC employee, Wilungula told Reuters. He said the kidnappers had demanded a $25,000 ransom for the Frenchman.

A spokesman for WSC said later on Monday that the employee was released Monday afternoon without providing further details.

France's foreign ministry confirmed that one of its nationals had been released. It declined to say whether a ransom had been paid.

Kidnappings have increased over the last two years in lawless eastern Congo, where millions died in regional conflicts between 1996-2003, most from hunger and disease.

A Human Rights Watch report last year found that at least 175 people were kidnapped for ransom in eastern Congo in 2015.

Many kidnappings appeared to be carried out by former and current members of the dozens of armed groups that operate there.

Park rangers in eastern Congo seeking to protect dwindling populations of elephants and gorillas also clash frequently with poachers and other armed criminals who exploit the area's rich supply of minerals, wildlife and other resources.

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