At least nine people have reportedly been killed in clashes in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after government soldiers prevented former rebels from leaving a camp for demobilised militia groups.
The fighting erupted on Wednesday at a camp in Kamina, in the country’s southeast, that houses ex-fighters from the Rwandan-backed M23 group.
The M23 fighters belong to the minority Tutsi ethnic group and are closely tied to the Tutsi in neighbouring Rwanda.
They have participated in rebellions against DRC President Joseph Kabila in 2012 and 2013. International human rights groups say the M23 has been responsible for widespread war crimes.
Reuters news agency quoted Lambert Mende, a government spokesman, as acknowledging the two groups had clashed but also saying that the soldiers had not killed anyone.
Protesters killed one camp officer with a machete, Mende said.
One of the ex-fighters said that government troops killed 10 of the demoblised fighters and that the demonstration they held to demand their return home had been peaceful.
According to the Bill Clinton Foundation for Peace, a human rights NGO in Kinshasa, six former fighters and three soldiers were killed.
Rights groups have criticised humanitarian conditions in the country’s camps for demobilised fighters, where reports of starvation and disease are rampant.
The DRC’s east has been unstable for two decades.
The region suffered two wars between 1996 and 2003, in which nine African countries were involved and millions were left dead.
Fears of another eruption of violence are on the rise in the DRC as the country enters a contentious election period, during which Kabila will attempt to hold on to power for a third term.
Thousands took to the streets last month in nationwide protests against Kabila.
The protests broke out when the country’s Constitutional Court ruled that the president could remain in a caretaker capacity beyond the expiry of his second term in December.
Opposition groups have accused Kabila of seeking to delay the poll in attempt to extend his mandate for another term.