Militia kills five in attack on Banro Corp's east Congo gold mine

By Fiston Mahamba

GOMA, Congo (Reuters) - A Mai Mai militia attacked Banro Corp's east Congo Namoya gold mine with rifle and artillery fire on Thursday, a Banro geologist at the mine said, killing five people and wounding several others in the second attack on the mine in less than a year.

"The rebels tried to take expatriate workers on site as hostages but they didn't succeed because they couldn't reach the place where they were taking refuge," geologist Bienfait Mukelo told Reuters by telephone.

They were repelled in a firefight with the guards, he said.

He later said that five people had been killed, including two from Congolese security forces, and many wounded, mostly by an exploding artillery shell that the militia fired into the compound. The wounded were taken to hospital, he said.

Well-armed militia groups have repeatedly struck Banro's operations in eastern Congo, which is home to dozens of such groups.

Fighting between the Congolese army and a local militia in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo forced Banro to suspend operations at the Namoya gold mine for a month and temporarily evacuate its staff in mid-2017.

Militias like the "Mai Mai," who believe blessed water has magical properties like protecting fighters from bullets, have preyed on the population and exploited mineral resources since 2003, at the end of a regional war that killed millions.

Insecurity has worsened across Congo since President Joseph Kabila refused to step down when his mandate expired at the end of 2016.

Militiamen kidnapped five Namoya workers in March, and later released them. Three police officers were killed in a raid on Banro's Twangiza gold mine in a neighbouring province in February.

(Reporting by Fiston Mahamba; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Toni Reinhold)