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Prisoners Freed as Rebels Clash With Troops in Eastern DRC

As the U.N. Security Council prepared to discuss the situation in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, gunmen attacked the town of Uvira, near the border with Burundi, and a human rights group criticized the Congolese military's actions in its campaign against a Rwandan militia in the region.

In the early morning hours, gunmen attacked the city of Uvira, on Lake Tanganyika, near Congo's border with Burundi. The attackers raided a jail in the town, freeing nearly all of the more than 100 prisoners.

Clashes with government forces left at least nine dead, including six attackers and two soldiers. The situation had reportedly returned to calm by the afternoon.

The governor of South Kivu province, Louis Muderhwa, said the attackers belonged to different armed groups operating in the region.

He said the attackers' objective appeared to be to free members of their groups from the prison in Uvira, and that members of the National Liberation Forces, a Burundian rebel group, were involved in the assault. He said that four Burundian citizens were captured.

The U.N.-backed Radio Okapi also reported that members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, a Rwandan Hutu militia, were also involved in the attack.

Congolese soldiers have been pursuing the FDLR since mid-January. The initial operation was led by Rwandan troops, who left the country at the end of February.

On Thursday, as the U.N. Security Council was set to discuss the instability in eastern Congo, the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch said that both rebels and government soldiers have targeted civilians during the operation.

Researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg spoke to VOA from London.

"We now know that at least 180 civilians have been killed, most of them by the Rwandan Hutu militias, but also that Congolese army soldiers are themselves, as part of looting sprees killing people and raping a lot of women," said Van Woudenberg.

The Congolese military is planning a renewed offensive against the FDLR, which according to Human Rights Watch, has regained much of the ground it lost during the Rwandan-led operation.

"Now we know that the Congolese army is gearing up for the next phase of its military operation, but they are sending their troops to the front line without salary payment, without logistical support, without food," added Van Woundenberg. "And we are deeply concerned about what that will mean for local populations and what is being done to ensure that people are protected as part of these military operations and not being targeted."

The U.N. peacekeeping force plans to support the upcoming offensive. Human Rights Watch called for the U.N. to increase its efforts to ensure that civilians are not targeted in operations with U.N. involvement.