Hundreds of people have protested in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo after a machete attack by suspected Ugandan rebels in which a local activist said at least six people were killed.

Teddy Kataliko told the Reuters news agency that seven other people were wounded with two missing after men with machetes and hatchets attacked a village on Monday evening.

Major Victor Masandi, an army spokesman, said he knew of three deaths.

Witnesses said police fired in the air on Tuesday to disperse a crowd protesting in the nearby town of Beni over the lack of security in the volatile region.

Millions died in eastern Congo in a 1998-2003 war that sucked in more than a half dozen neighbouring countries, and the region remains ravaged by dozens of armed groups who contest its vast reserves of gold, diamonds and tin.

Masandi blamed the attack on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a rebel group formed in the 1990s to fight the Ugandan government, but which now operates primarily on the Congolese side of the border.

Spate of massacres

He said Congolese troops exchanged fire with the assailants, forcing them to flee.

A spate of overnight massacres near Beni since October has killed more than 300 civilians.

The government and local activists have blamed the ADF, though analysts say other groups are likely to be involved as well.

The Congolese army launched a major operation against the ADF last year and says it has dramatically weakened the group.

But regular attacks against civilians in the region have continued, and the army blamed ADF fighters for an ambush on UN peacekeepers last week that killed two and wounded 13 Tanzanian troops.

The UN mission in the country has so far declined to officially assign responsibility for the ambush.

Jamil Mukulu, the ADF's leader, was arrested last month in Tanzania.

Congo and Uganda have both sent teams to Tanzania to lobby for his extradition.

Source: Agencies