By Aaron Ross
KINSHASA (Reuters) - Villagers from two major ethnic groups in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo clashed with machetes and batons before dispersing when army troops and U.N. peacekeepers intervened and fired into the air, a U.N. spokesman said.
The latest spasm of violence between Hutu and Nande villagers followed the killing of a Hutu civilian three km (two miles) away by presumed Mai Mai militiamen, U.N. mission military spokesman Amouzoun Codjo Martin told Reuters.
At least six civilians have been killed near the town of Luofo in North Kivu province's Lubero territory, some 100 km (65 miles) from the Uganda border, in the past two days as tensions between the area's Hutu and Nande communities have risen.
Martin did not confirm the ethnicity of the attackers in Wednesday's villager clash. However, local activists identified them as Nande. Local Mai Mai groups are dominated by Nande.
Ethnic rivalries, foreign invasions and competition for land and rich mineral deposits among eastern Congo's dozens of rebel groups have stoked persistent conflict over the last two decades, costing millions of lives.
The United Nations warned last month that a surge in kidnappings and general insecurity in North Kivu in recent months is preventing aid workers from delivering essential humanitarian assistance to the impoverished population.
The Nande, who dominate commerce in North Kivu, are historic rivals of the local Hutu. Intercommunal friction has risen since Congo's army launched a military offensive last year against the FDLR, a Rwandan Hutu militia operating in eastern Congo.
Wednesday's clashes followed the killing of at least five Hutu civilians in a neighboring village on Tuesday by presumed Mai Mai fighters.
Local activists said the murders appeared to be retaliation for a nighttime assault last month, blamed by authorities on the FDLR, that killed at least 14 Nande in the nearby town of Miriki.
Joseph Mali Kidogo, president of the Civil Society of Lubero, said he was concerned that the violence could spiral out of control. "There is a great fear of what is going to happen next between these two communities," he said.
(Reporting by Aaron Ross; Editing by Makini Brice and Mark Heinrich)