KINSHASA - Armed villagers killed at least 47 policemen trying to intervene in ethnic clashes in northern Democratic Republic of Congo, U.N.-sponsored radio reported on Friday.
An unknown number of civilians also died in the violence which erupted in the village of Dongo in Equateur province, near the border with Congo-Republic, early Thursday, Radio Okapi said, citing local officials.
Residents from neighbouring villages representing two different ethnic groups had been involved in on and off fighting in recent months over fishing rights. The violence is not linked to simmering fighting in Congo's east.
Government authorities in the capital, Kinshasa, said that they were aware of the clashes, but were unable to confirm the number of policemen or civilians killed.
They've been fighting over fishing ponds. We know that there were clashes. There was fighting with machetes and with hunting rifles, but at present we don't know how many dead there are, Congo's Information Minister Lambert Mende told Reuters.
The policemen were sent to reestablish order. I don't know why they would have been attacked, Mende added.
Congo hosts the U.N.'s largest peacekeeping mission, with over 18,000 soldiers, but 90 percent of the force is based in Congo's eastern regions and there were no peacekeepers in the area the violence took place.
The former Belgian colony held successful elections in 2006 after over a decade of war and chaos but the government remains weak and a mixture of local and foreign gunmen continue to operate across the east, often fighting over mines and illegal tax collection.
(Reporting by Joe Bavier; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Giles Elgood)