File image - Fighters from the Congolese Revolutionary Army ride on a truck in Rushuru, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Thousands of Congolese civilians fled to neighbouring Uganda on Friday to escape clashes between rebel factions.

Kinshasa -

Clashes erupted again early Saturday between the army and M23 rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the restive region where fighting has been flaring all week, the two sides said.

“Early this morning they attacked,” said Lieutenant Colonel Olivier Hamuli, an army spokesman. “We're in the middle of fighting at the moment.”

A spokesman for the rebels, Colonel Vianney Kazarama, confirmed that fighting broke out early in the morning, adding that the army “attacked us with helicopters and tanks.”

The clashes in the Nord Kivu region erupted hours after the United Nations put its peacekeepers in the region on high alert.

Violence flared this week after the UN and the United States imposed sanctions on the leader of the M23 rebel group, 38-year-old Sultani Makenga.

The M23 broke away from the national army early this year and UN chief Ban Ki-moon said in a report made public on Friday that the rebels now pose a long-term threat to the government.

A recent UN report charged that Rwanda and Uganda, which both border eastern DR Congo, were supporting the rebels, a charge both countries deny. - Sapa-AFP