Rebels seized an east Congo army base and the headquarters of a refuge for some of the world's last mountain gorillas in heavy fighting Sunday that sent thousands of civilians fleeing, U.N. officials and rebels said.
An unknown number of soldiers, rebels and civilians were killed in the renewed fighting in North Kivu province, according to civilians who said the onslaught began around 2 a.m.
Government troops raced down the road north from the provincial capital of Goma to reinforce a counterattack Sunday morning. One tank careened into a group of fleeing civilians and killed three teenage boys, civilians said.
Associated Press reporters who watched the fathers burying their sons in a cabbage patch outside Kibumba could hear bombing from army tanks about 12 miles from Rumangabo army camp, seized in the attack.
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Sunday's attack marked the second time rebels have seized the base since Aug. 28, when rebel leader Gen. Laurent Nkunda went on the offensive after accusing government troops of violating a January cease-fire.
About 15,000 civilians escaped Sunday, the United Nations said, among more than 200,000 people who have fled their homes in just two months and joined at least 1.2 million displaced in previous conflicts.
Nkunda's fighters, who claim to be protecting the region's Tutsi minority, have occupied parts of Virunga National Park for nearly a year, but attacked the headquarters for the first time Sunday. More than 50 park rangers fled into the forest and were making their way on foot to Kibumba, park director Emmanuel de Merode said in a statement.
The park is home to 200 of the world's 700 remaining mountain gorillas. Ten mountain gorillas were killed last year.