GOMA - Rebel forces seized part of a key town in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday in heavy fire-fights with government soldiers, forcing thousands of civilians to flee.
Officials said forces loyal to a rebel general occupied part of the town of Sake in the east of the DRC on Sunday, after at least eight people died the previous day in battles between rebels and government troops.
"The 11th integrated brigade launched an attack, the attack failed and the 11th brigade abandoned Sake," Ajay Dalal, spokesman for the UN mission in the DRC (Monuc), told AFP, referring to an element of the regular DRC army (FARDC).
Heavy weapons fire began about 5.30am on Sunday near Sake, the site of Saturday's battle, said a Congolese army officer who requested anonymity.
UN peacekeepers held the other part of the town, located about 25km northwest of the town of Goma, the capital of the DRC's restive northeastern Goma province. Between 15000 and 20000 civilians have fled their homes, Monuc and humanitarian sources reported.
FARDC General Gabriel Amisi held an urgent meeting with senior Monuc leaders in Goma on Sunday afternoon.
There are frequent clashes between government forces and soldiers loyal to renegade Congolese general Laurent Nkunda, based in the Masisi mountains north of Sake, but Saturday's attack was the first major offensive by these rebels in months.
Monuc sent at least 700 men to reinforce its presence in Sake. The UN troops were not involved in any of the fighting, but at one point fired warning shots as rebel soldiers advanced. -Sapa