At least 40 civilians were killed Wednesday in a rebel attack on a village in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, local officials and civil society groups said.
Thomas D'Acquin, head of civil society in Congo's North Kivu province, said the attack by the ADF-NALU — a coalition of the Allied Democratic Forces and National Army for the Liberation of Uganda — had destroyed many homes in Kamango, a village near the Ugandan border.
The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) emerged in the 1990s in opposition to the Ugandan government, allying itself with the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU). It was largely driven out of Uganda in the mid-2000s but has held out in Congo, stepping up its attacks this year.
Moussa Demba Diallo, spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, said two U.N. helicopters had bombarded ADF-NALU fighters on Wednesday.
"Following the helicopter attacks, the Congolese army was able to retake all the positions seized by the rebels," he said. Diallo said that nine Congolese soldiers and 10 rebels were killed in the fighting, with other wounded taken to the regional capital, Goma.
ADF-NALU has been blamed for a spate of recent attacks and kidnappings around the town of Beni in North Kivu, including the deaths of at least 21 civilians on Dec. 14 and 15.
The rebel group is believed to number up to 1,400 fighters and has kidnapped about 300 Congolese civilians over the past year, according to a report by a U.N. Intervention Brigade charged with helping Congolese forces hunt down rebels. More than 150,000 people are taking refuge on the Congolese-Ugandan border.
"We believe there is the risk of a massacre and that's why we are asking to establish a humanitarian corridor," said Teddy Kataliko, head of the civil society in the Beni region.
Kataliko said that those fleeing the fighting would not be able to cross the border into Uganda, which was closed.
With the Intervention Brigade's backing, Congo's army overran the most important insurgency in the east, M23, in early November. A peace deal was signed this month with the Tutsi-led group.
Some observers have voiced concern that ADF-NALU could become a link in the growing network of radical Islamist groups in East Africa.
Al Jazeera and wire services