KINSHASA, Jan 3 (Reuters) - More than 150 people were killed last week in fighting between government troops and armed groups in the Equateur province of Democratic Republic of Congo, the U.N. mission in the central African country said on Sunday. U.N.-backed Radio Okapi said 157 insurgents and one soldier from the Congolese army, known as the FARDC, were killed in and around the town of Inyele between Dec. 31 and Jan 1.
Inyele is 65 km (40 miles) from Dongo, in the northwest of the country, where ethnic violence erupted in late October.
That conflict began as a dispute over fishing rights between the Enyele and Monzaya communities. Since then, a number of groups have posted statements on the Internet saying they were launching a rebellion from Equateur against President Joseph Kabila’s government in Kinshasa.
“Information received from peacekeepers indicate fierce fighting between FARDC and armed elements,” Lt Col Jean-Paul Dietrich, military spokesman for U.N. force MONUC told Reuters.
“It was reported that 157 armed elements were killed. FARDC reportedly suffered several casualties,” he said, adding the Congolese army had taken control of Inyele.
Last week, the United Nations said it had extended the mandate of its peacekeeping forces in the country for only five months instead of a full year.
The shortened extension will allow the United Nations to work with Kinshasa on a revised mandate for the forces that will focus on training the Congolese army ahead of withdrawal.
MONUC, the biggest U.N force in the world with approximately 20,000 uniformed personnel, has been in the mineral-rich central African nation since a 1998-2003 civil war in which millions of people are believed to have died.
Despite continued reports of murders and rapes by armed groups funded by illegal mineral exports in the country’s remote eastern provinces, Congo’s government wants an exit strategy for MONUC forces ahead of the 50th anniversary of its independence from former colonial master Belgium at the end of June.
The latest flare-up in Equateur appears unrelated to ongoing violence in the eastern Kivu provinces. (Reporting by Thomas Hubert; Editing by Daniel Magnowski and Louise Ireland)