6 Congo rangers safe; US journalist, 3 others still missing

Six Congolese rangers were found Saturday in a large forest reserve in Congo's northeast a day after a security station was attacked by militia, but an American journalist and at least three security guards remain missing, a local official said Saturday.

At least 10 people had gone missing after an attack Friday by the Mai Mai militia outside the town of Mambasa in Congo's Okapi Wildlife Reserve, said Mambasa territory administrator Alfred Bongwalanga Efoloko. He confirmed that the six had been found but had no information on their conditions. The park rangers are part of the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation.

No details about the missing journalist were immediately available and authorities had no proof the attack was an abduction, he said. Army reinforcements have been searching since Friday night for those still 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.

In Washington, the State Department said it was "aware of reports that a U.S. citizen was kidnapped" in Congo.

"The U.S. Department of State has no higher priority than the protection of U.S. citizens overseas," a State Department official said on background. "Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment."

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, Efoloko said.

The Center for Studies of Peace and Defense 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, 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Mambasa. The group's executive director, Omar Kavota, expressed concern for the 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.


Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.