Suspected Rwandan Hutu rebels killed a park ranger in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in the latest attack on guards who protect rare mountain gorillas in a national park, officials said on Friday.
The attack late on Thursday on the ranger station at Kabaraza, 95 km (60 miles) north of the North Kivu provincial capital Goma, followed the killings of five of the endangered gorillas in recent weeks in the Virunga National Park.
"Around 2300 hours, a ranger on night watch heard noises coming from some of the rangers' houses. He went there to find out what was going on and was shot in the belly," Robert Muir of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, which supports the protection programme for the Virunga gorillas, told Reuters.
The ranger died from his wounds, and a worker at the camp was injured by a bullet in the neck. Houses were looted.
Other rangers who drove the attackers off said they spoke Rwandan and were believed to be members of the largely Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebel group which operates in eastern Congo.
Several rangers have been killed in Virunga, Africa's oldest national park located near the intersection of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. Conservationists are fighting to save the estimated 700 mountain gorillas who remain in central Africa.
Thursday's attack came in the same turbulent area of eastern Congo where government troops have been battling soldiers loyal to a renegade general, Laurent Nkunda.
On Thursday, thousands of civilians fled the fighting which has shattered a seven-month-old truce signed by Nkunda and dampened hopes of stabilising eastern Congo after landmark national elections held late last year.
The recent slayings of gorillas shocked conservationists, who suspect the killings are linked to a power struggle between local government agents trying to save Virunga and those engaged in the illicit trade in the charcoal made from its trees.
Under Congo's late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, Virunga was a major tourist draw, but years of insecurity and the 1998-2003 war that killed an estimated 4 million people, mainly through hunger and disease, have led to a dwindling number of visitors.