Bujumbura - At least 25 people have been killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in fighting between government troops and rebels on the north-western front, a rebel official said on Wednesday.
Olivier Kamitatu, secretary-general of the Ugandan-backed Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC), said 12 government troops and two rebel fighters had died on Tuesday in clashes near Basankusu, a key rebel base 800 km north-east of the capital Kinshasa.
Another 11 soldiers loyal to Congo President Laurent Kabila were killed last Friday in a separate battle on the Ubangi river, farther north near the town of Dongo, Kamitatu said.
The MLC, a rebel faction headed by millionaire businessman Jean-Pierre Bemba, is one of three rebel groups fighting against the government in a war that has split the country in two since it began in August 1998.
A peace accord signed last year by the government, which is backed by Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia, and the rebels, backed by Rwanda and Uganda, has done little to stop fighting, particularly in the north-west of the country.
Rebel officials say the latest round of fighting is part of a general government offensive launched in October on MLC-controlled territories in the northern province of Equator.
"They usually attack first by air and then the infantry is following on the ground with support from boats mounted with artillery," Kamitatu said by satellite phone from northern Congo.
Bemba of the MLC said on Tuesday that Kabila had sent soldiers from the town of Boende to the south-east of Basankusu, as well as along the Lulonga river from Mbandaka to the south-west.
Kamitatu said Tuesday's fighting broke out after two government battalions launched a ground attack on rebel lines around 40 km west of Basankusu.
"There was an offensive near Basankusu. We killed 12 of Kabila's soldiers and lost two of our men," he said.
Kamitatu said Russian-built Antonov bombers were dropping home-made bombs, manufactured in the south-eastern province of Katanga, on rebel territories daily from a high altitude.
"Today, Antonovs bombarded our positions on the Ubangi river. They dropped eight bombs on our positions," Kamitatu said, adding that 75 bombs had hit Basankusu alone since December.