Eastern Congo attacks kill civilians, hit major power plant

DAKAR (Reuters) - Suspected rebels have killed civilians and damaged a major hydropower plant under construction in Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the park operator said on Wednesday.

Tuesday's attack, which included the use of artillery, came from the direction of positions held by the M23 rebel group, the park service said in a statement.

M23, which could not be reached for comment, has launched a series of raids in the region in recent months, killing dozens and displacing tens of thousands of people.

It is just one of many armed groups fighting in eastern Congo over minerals and land. On Tuesday, suspected militants from the CODECO group attacked a mining site a few hundred kilometres north of Virunga in Ituri province, killing about 10 civilians and four soldiers, the army told Reuters.

It was not clear how many people died in the Virunga Park attack, which also appeared to target a 28-megawatt hydropower plant at Rwanguba, which the park says will be the largest energy project in eastern Congo when it comes online in two years.

A generator and concrete structures inside the plant were hit, but at this stage the construction timeline is not in jeopardy, the park said.

The M23 insurgency stems from the long fallout from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The group was formed in 2012 claiming to defend the interests of Congolese Tutsis, the ethnic group shared by Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, against Hutu militias.

An offensive since May has rapidly expanded its territory, a United Nations group of experts said this month. They said they had "solid evidence" that Rwandan troops have been fighting alongside the M23 and providing it with weapons and support.

Rwanda has denied accusations that it supports M23.

(Reporting by Edward McAllister; Additional reporting by Erikas Mwisi Kambale in Beni; Edited by David Evans)

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