Six rebels wearing Rwandan army uniforms on Thursday died in clashes between the M 23 rebel group and DR Congo government troops in the country's war-torn east, a Congolese government spokesman said.
Fighting between the two broke out early Thursday near the eastern city of Goma, in what a rebel statement said was a breach of an already shaky ceasefire.
DR Congo government forces (FARDC) found "six bodies of the attackers who were wearing Rwandan army uniforms at the scene", government spokesman Lambert Mende told the press. The toll could not be immediately confirmed by military officials or rebel sources.
A rebel statement said that the DR Congo army launched several offensives against M 23 positions in the Rugari area, about 30 kilometres (20 miles) from Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, not far from the Rwandan border.
"The FARDC advanced to attack us (...) we must defend ourselves," M 23 military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Vianney Kazarama told AFP Thursday morning. He said the rebels would counter-attack "in self-defence".
The M 23 statement on the outbreak of fresh clashes reached AFP early Thursday but in a later statement in the early afternoon the rebels said that the clashes began at 7:00 am (0500 GMT). The army said they started at 8:00 am.
"We did not attack them," the army's spokesman for North Kivu, Lieutenant Colonel Olivier Hamuli, told AFP. "We know that they have been reinforcing their positions for more than two weeks."
Hamuli said fighting stopped in the afternoon but that the army was keeping up a search in the area. However, the M 23 spokesman insisted that "the enemy continues to bomb our positions".
Hamuli said Thursday "a small group attacked us from Rwanda" as the Congolese army was involved in a separate push targeting rebels between Rugari and Kibumba which borders Rwanda.
Asked whether he could identify the small group he said: "How are we supposed to know who's who if the M 23 and the Rwandan army are wearing the same uniform?".
The M 23, which has dubbed its armed wing the Congolese Revolutionary Army, was launched by former fighters in an ethnic Tutsi rebel group that was integrated into the military under a 2009 peace deal whose terms the mutineers claim were never fully implemented.
Rights groups accuse the M23 of human rights abuses and of unleashing a fresh cycle of violence by the region's complex web of armed groups.
The United Nations has accused neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda of backing the rebels, but both countries deny this.
The world body said Wednesday that armed groups in DR Congo's east slaughtered more than 200 people including scores of children between April and September, hacking some to death and burning others alive.© ANP/AFP