Two army officers and 151 rebels were killed in a battle in eastern Congo, officials said Friday, in what the U.N. called the worst clash between the M23 group and the military since July.
Rebels attacked army positions Thursday and suffered heavy losses in the fighting that ensued, the governor of North Kivu province, Julien Paluku told The Associated Press by phone. Paluku said the Red Cross had been sent into villages to take out bodies to prevent the spread of disease.
The M23 was created after officers from the Congolese army defected in April and May and launched a rebellion to demand better pay, armaments and amnesty from war crimes.
The army spokesman in northern Kivu, Col. Olivier Hamuli, said that two army officers were killed and seven were wounded in the fighting in the Kibumba area, 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Goma, the capital.
The spokesman of the M23, Col. Vianney Kazarama, denied the heavy casualties, saying that only two rebels were wounded.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo said it was the worst battle since July. At U.N. headquarters in New York, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said there are indications that between 1,500 to 2,500 people may have fled the area as a result of the fighting.
The U.N. Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is on high alert and has deployed quick reaction teams. The Mission's attack helicopters are also on standby.