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KINSHASA (Reuters) - Six Congolese killed in a wildlife reserve in eastern Congo last week were not on a mission to rescue a U.S. journalist, a spokeswoman for the reserve authorities said on Tuesday, contradicting Congolese officials' earlier accounts.

Four park rangers and two civilian porters in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in Democratic Republic of Congo's Mambasa territory were in fact killed during an attack last Friday by unidentified gunmen, the spokeswoman said.

An American journalist disappeared following the raid and was recovered on Saturday by a team of park rangers and soldiers. A local official at the time said five park rangers were killed in a joint operation with the army to rescue an American journalist.

But the Okapi spokeswoman said all the fatalities occurred during the initial attack and that there were never any hostages.

It is unclear who was responsible for the raid, which occurred in a gold mine that park rangers had shut down earlier this year.

One Congolese and two Dutch journalists also managed to escape the attack.

Eastern Congo has been the theatre 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 Aaron Ross; Editing by Tim Cocks and Catherine Evans)

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Reuters