Goma (DR Congo) (AFP) - Troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo have killed 16 Ugandan rebels in two days of clashes in the troubled northeast of the country, a military spokesman announced on Tuesday.
"The provisional toll is 16 dead on the rebel side and two injured in the (Congolese army). Six AK-47s (Kalashnikov assault rifles) were recovered," Major Victor Masandi of operation Sokola 1, which hunts the foreign rebels, told AFP.
Fighting began on Sunday close to Kokola and Mayimoya when Ugandan "ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) rebels attacked the army" about 50 kilometres (31 miles) north of the major trading town of Beni in North Kivu province, Masandi said.
The clashes entailed "intensive firing with heavy weapons and light arms", while the Ugandan rebels on Monday "shot at a UN helicopter" that was part of the UN peacekeeping force deployed in the DRC, the major added.
"I strongly condemn the firing at one of our helicopters in Beni territory," Martin Kobler, the head of the UN mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), said in a statement late Monday.
The attack "by a group of unidentified armed men" took place in the Oicha area, 20 kilometres north of Beni, Kobler said, adding that the aircraft landed safely.
"We will not be deterred in our active protection of civilians. The attackers will be pursued with maximum efforts and minimum tolerance within the rules of engagement," he vowed.
The UN Security Council has mandated troops in a special Force Intervention Brigade to take the offensive against the many armed groups active in eastern DRC, where more than two decades of unrest has displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
The Muslim rebels of the ADF, who launched an insurgency in neighbouring Uganda against President Yoweri Museveni in the mid-1990s, are accused of killing more than 260 people in and around Beni town between October and December last year.
Men, women and children were massacred mainly with machetes and knives, prompting a joint operation by the Congolese army and UN troops to put down the jihadist fighters in December.
A degree of calm was restored, but the combined intervention failed to bring a halt to the killings of civilians, which spread northwards to Orientale province. Since January 1, at least 60 people have lost their lives across the region.
The Congolese army has announced that its men killed Kasada Karume, then number three in the ADF command structure, overnight on April 24.
The founding leader of the ADF, Jamil Mukulu, was arrested at the end of April in Tanzania, according to Uganda's New Vision newspaper.
The rebels first established rear bases in the mountains near the Ugandan border in 1995. They are accused of brutal murders, looting and the forced enlistment of child soldiers, while making a profit from illegal trade in tropical timber.