DAKAR (Reuters) - Poachers in Democratic Republic of Congo killed three park rangers and an army officer this week as authorities seek to re-exert control over a national park, a conservation group said on Friday.
The illegal hunters opened fire on a patrol including nine rangers and a military colonel that had tracked an elephant's transmitter collar to a poachers' camp in northern Congo's Garamba National Park on Monday.
A helicopter operated by African Parks, which manages Garamba, rescued six of the men but was unable to return for the remaining four, the group said. Their bodies were recovered later.
Garamba's park manager Erik Mararv said clashes with poachers were on the rise. Eight people have so far died this year in Garamba, which has long been home to poachers and armed groups, including members of Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army.
"We have increasingly and more fiercely started to expand our protection zone to cover the whole park in the last six months and this has obviously brought us in to a number of confrontations with various armed groups," said Mararv.
Poaching has received renewed international attention in recent months, with the United Nations calling on member states to improve efforts against trafficking and poaching, arguing the profits fund insurgent and rebel groups operating in Africa.
Africa's elephant population is estimated to have dwindled by 60 percent over the past decade with around 30,000 elephants poached each year largely to supply ivory to Asian countries.
(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Joe Bavier and Alison Williams)