, DR Congo, May 16 – Violent clashes between rebels and government troops in the restive eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have left at least 21 people dead, a military official said Thursday.
At least 17 militia fighters and four soldiers were killed in the fighting which broke out on Wednesday in the town of Beni, some 250 kilometres (155 miles) north of Goma, the capital of the North Kivu province, Colonel Richard Bisamaza said.
Six members of the Mai Mai militia were captured, Bisamaza said.
A separate source told AFP that the toll was 28 dead, including four soldiers.
The Mai Mai attacked army buildings to try to free a number of their group who had been arrested and were being held there, according to Bisamaza, but fled after an hour of gunfire exchange.
North Kivu lies in the unstable east of the DR Congo, and is dominated by armed movements including the M23 rebels, a group the UN suspects of receiving financial support from Rwanda and Uganda. Both countries deny the accusation.
With government attention focused over the past year on battling the M23, other militia such as the Mai Mai — which come from a force known as Katakatanga seeking the secession of Katanga province — have been able to proliferate in both North Kivu and neighbouring South Kivu.
DR Congo has ramped up its efforts to tackle these armed movements, with the first troops of a 3,000-strong African intervention brigade aimed at taking on the armed groups arriving in the country earlier this week.
The brigade will assist the UN force known as MONUSCO already present in the country.