Mutinous troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo said on Saturday they had repulsed attacks by government forces in heavy fighting in the eastern Nord-Kivu province.

Lieutenant Colonel Vianney Kazarama, spokesman of the rebel March 23 Movement (M23), said government troops using both light and heavy weapons were trying to capture Mbuzi, a hilltop base of the deserters.

“But they failed this morning, we beat them back,” he added.

Kazarama also said helicopter gunships and at least six tanks were firing on Jomba, which saw heavy fighting a week before.

A major in the government forces admitted to AFP that the rebels were “offering some resistance” to the attacks on the hill, in which helicopters were deployed, while a colonel said M23 had launched a “serious” counter-attack.

The fighting was taking place in the Rutshuru territory, close to the border with Uganda and Rwanda, sending local residents fleeing.

The members of M23 originally came from an armed Congolese Tutsi movement, the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), who were integrated into the army in 2009.

They are led by Colonel Sultani Makenga and have demanded the full implementation of the 2009 peace accords, complaining of poor pay, inadequate food and a lack of promotion, problems rife in the army as a whole.

“Currently, the fighting against the M23 Movement is taking place in southeast Rutshuru, around three hills, the chain of hills between Mbuzi, Chanzu and Runyonyi,” the UN mission in DR Congo (Monusco) reported on Wednesday. “Runyonyi is really the stronghold of the M23 fighters.”

Fighting Friday had concentrated on Chanzu but it died down in the evening with no change in the situation.

Rebel groups, local militia and government forces are waging an almost constant war in Nord-Kivu, which is rich in valuable minerals.

About 10,000 civilians have fled into Uganda since last month and nearly as many to Rwanda, while about 47,000 have been displaced throughout Nord-Kivu, according to refugee officials.

Only the very old and sick have remained in villages such as Gisiza, at the foot of Chanzu, cowering in their straw-roofed mud huts as bullets whistle overhead.

“Everyone fled two weeks ago,” an 88-year-old man named Joseph, who remained with his wife Veronique, 75, told AFP.

“I haven't the resources or the strength to walk and our children are afraid to come and fetch us,” he said in the village where two hens were the only other sign of life. - Sapa-AFP