Armed villagers killed at least 47 policemen trying to intervene in a feud over fishing rights in northern Congo, United Nation-sponsored radio reported on Friday, but the government said the death toll was much lower.
An unknown number of civilians also died in the violence which erupted near the village of Dongo in Equateur province early on Thursday and continued on Friday, Radio Okapi said, citing local officials.
Congo's Information Minister Lambert Mende said the death toll had been exaggerated and the incident had been sparked by a local government official, who was recently removed from his post for inciting community tensions.
"The central government had already suspended him. He was the one who organized the group, which had carried out the assaults against the other community," Mende told Reuters.
"They attacked the local police station yesterday, killing one policeman and four civilians. Today, they killed six more policemen," he said.
The violence is not linked to simmering fighting in Congo's eastern borderlands, where the army, backed by thousands of U.N. peacekeepers, is attempting to stamp out local, Rwandan and Ugandan rebels who roam the mineral-rich regions.
Bienvenu Longe, a local administrator near Dongo, said the fighting started when police, sent to the area to quell months of clashes, attempted to arrest a local witch doctor linked to the feud.
"The police tried to arrest him, and his group of more than 100 attacked them with spears, machetes, hunting rifles and even knives. The situation became catastrophic," Longe said.
Longe and other officials contacted by Reuters could not confirm the number of dead as most residents had fled the area, many across the border.
Residents from the villages of Monzaya and Enyele, representing two different ethnic groups, had been involved in intermittent feuding over fishing rights.
Congo hosts the U.N.'s largest peacekeeping mission, with around 18,600 soldiers, but 95 percent of the force is based in Congo's eastern regions and there were no peacekeepers in the area where the violence took place.
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