Source AP ©

Eastern Congo engulfed in new clashes

Eastern Congo faces new fights between army troops and insurgents, and a wave of villagers fled the area.

In the morning, fighters loyal to renegade general Laurent Nkunda captured an area around mobile phone company installations that cover the area, prompting a counterattack from the army in the afternoon, said Maj. Vivek Goyal, a spokesman for the 18,000-troop U.N. peacekeeping force in the country.

He said the army also attacked Nkunda's troops around the towns of Mushake, Nyanzale and Kimoka.

Villagers streamed out of the battle zones Monday, adding to the tens of thousands who have already been displaced in Congo's North Kivu province, Patrick Lavand'homme, an official with the U.N. humanitarian agency, said in an interview broadcast on U.N.-backed radio.

"In terms of shelter, to find spots for all these displaced, the situation risks becoming very serious," Lavand'homme said. The U.N. has said that nearly 200,000 people have been displaced by fighting in the area in recent months.

Army officials were not immediately available for comment, but radio reports said much of the fighting had subsided by the evening.

Congo's government has struggled, with little success, to establish authority over the lawless east, particularly North Kivu province, where the army and at least three other factions control separate patches of territory.

Nkunda defected from the army several years ago and formed his own militia soon after Congo's war ended in 2002. He said he needed to protect his minority Tutsi ethnic group from Rwandan Hutu rebels who have occupied forests in east Congo since fleeing Rwanda's 1994 genocide, which their leaders helped organize. More than 500,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed during the Rwandan slaughter 13 years ago.

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