DR Congo clashes kill at least 15: authorities

Congolese troops speak with people on January 7, 2016 in Miriki, north of Goma, after 15 people died when Hutu rebels attacked civilians (AFP Photo/Kudra Maliro)

Goma (DR Congo) (AFP) - At least 15 people have been killed in clashes between armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been the scene of heightened ethnic tensions in recent weeks, local authorities said Monday.

"There have been clashes in the village of Mukeberwa" in North Kivu province on Sunday, Bokele Joy, the administrator of Lubero Territory where the fighting took place, told AFP.

"According to information that I have, between 15 and 30 people have been killed," he said, adding that he could not be more precise as there are no army troops or national police in the area.

The United Nations said it was "alarmed by reports of escalating inter-communal violence" in the area, citing "at least 21 people killed, 40 wounded and 70 houses burned down over the weekend.

"We have also received reports of massive displacement of civilians, looting, abductions and of at least three rapes during the past few days," it said.

Witnesses and local leaders confirmed that many locals had been forced by the violence to flee their homes, though no official numbers were immediately available.

Joy added that the fighting broke out after an ethnic Nande militia attacked Mukeberwa, which is held by Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, based for decades in eastern Congo and said to include perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda.

According to the UN mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) and local authorities, inter-ethnic tensions have risen in the region since killings in early January at the Nande village of Miriki, 110 kilometres (65 miles) north of Goma, capital of the restive North Kivu province.

Up to 17 people, including two women and the daughter of a local chief, were killed in Miriki by suspected Rwandan Hutu rebels.

For several months, Nande chiefs have opposed the return of displaced Congolese Hutus to the region, accusing them of conspiring with the FDLR.

The east of the Democratic Republic of Congo has seen armed conflicts over ethnic and land disputes for more than 20 years.