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Tensions Flare in Eastern Congo Amid Ongoing Clashes

Tensions are growing in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, amid ongoing clashes between forces loyal to dissident General Laurent Nkunda and the Congolese army. But a United Nations military spokesman said Tuesday that a ceasefire in the region was still effective.

Sporadic clashes erupted on Monday in three locations, persisting in Ngungu locale on Tuesday.

The clashes pose a threat to a U.N.-brokered ceasefire which has held for three weeks.

U.N. spokesman Gabriel de Brosses says the U.N. is monitoring the situation closely and has troops in the region. "We made air reconnaissance over the areas that were at stake yesterday. Basically, I think the ceasefire is still effective," he said.

De Brosses says forces loyal to former General Laurent Nkunda, are responsible for Monday's eruption of violence.

A spokesman for Nkunda on Monday accused the Congolese armed forces, known as the FRDC, of attacking first.

De Brosses dismissed that claim. "For the moment, the FRDC troops don't have any reason for attacking anyone," he said.

The U.N. said there were no reports yet on casualties during the fighting.

De Brosses told VOA that Nkunda's forces also clashed with Hutu militias in the region, in a separate incident on Monday.

Nkunda claims he is trying to protect eastern Congo 's ethnic Tutsi population from attacks by Hutu militias, who have ties to the perpetrators of neighboring Rwanda 's 1994 genocide.

The Congolese government calls Nkunda a renegade, and has urged him to integrate his forces into the regular army.

Congo's President Joseph Kabila said last week that he will not negotiate with Nkunda at this time.

Fighting erupted in the region after Nkunda's forces attacked government positions in late August.

Eastern Congo has long been a cauldron of simmering tensions as militias, often allied along ethnic lines, fought for control of territory in the resource-rich region.

The UN and aid groups note that women and children bear the brunt of the fighting.

Rape and recruitment of children into armed groups are endemic in the area.

A 1998-2003 war in eastern Congo embroiled the region, pulling in seven neighboring nations and costing an estimated 4 million lives, mostly from hunger and disease.

In recent weeks the U.N. has said it fears a deepening humanitarian crisis, and estimates some 300,000 people have fled their homes in the region this year.