KINSHASA - The commander of Congolese government troops fighting Ugandan Islamist rebels in the restive east of country has been killed in an ambush, the government said.
"Colonel Mamadou Ndala has been killed.... Apparently it was the ADF-Nalu (Ugandan rebel force) that killed him and two of his bodyguards," government spokesman Lambert Mende said.
"This is really an immense loss for the armed forces and the republic," Mende told AFP.
Ndala was travelling on Thursday between towns in strife-torn North Kivu province, "for the deployment of a commando battalion when his jeep fell into an ambush", Mende said.
The attack was apparently the work of the rebel Alliance of Democratic Forces and National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-Nalu), which is one of the oldest armed movements active in eastern DR Congo, military and UN sources said.
"Just when we arrived at Matembo, a rocket came in from the right-hand side of the road and struck our jeep, which was mounted with a heavy weapon," Corporal Paul Safari, a bodyguard of the colonel's, told AFP near the scene.
"I began shooting until I ran out of ammunition, but the aggressors were still advancing," he added.
A senior officer in the UN mission in the DR Congo, known as MONUSCO, which is providing the army with military and logistical support, confirmed the ambush "probably by the ADF-Nalu against the FARDC (Congolese army)."
"The situation is complicated," the officer said without elaborating.
ADF-Nalu was created in the mid-1990s in western Uganda out of the merger of two armed groups opposed to the regime of President Yoweri Museveni.
The rebel force last week killed 40 civilians in a grisly attack in the northeastern Beni region of DR Congo, when they raped women and hacked children to death, dumping bodies in latrines, according to local officials and MONUSCO, which sent attack helicopters on a retaliatory raid.
Elsewhere, a source at a military airport in Kinshasa told AFP there had been an exchange of gunfire between troops and "a vehicle full of unidentified armed men".
But government spokesman Mende said a soldier acting as a security guard at a nearby firm had opened fire to scare away a potential thief.
"It's an incident that happened outside Ndolo airport, although a soldier from the naval force was involved," Mende told AFP.
A second source, Georges Tabora, who commands the international airport at Ndjili, 10 kilometres (six miles) from Ndolo airport, also denied the reports.
On Monday, armed youths believed to be loyal to a pastor who challenged President Joseph Kabila in elections seven years ago stormed the state television station, the international airport and the military headquarters.
According to Mende, 103 people were killed in Monday's violence - 95 attackers and eight members of the armed forces.
The ADF-Nalu rebels have been led since 2007 by Jamil Mukulu, a former Christian who converted to Islam, and they are considered to be the only Islamist movement active across the border in DR Congo.
The United States put the group on its list of terrorist organisations in 2001 and Mukulu has been targeted by UN sanctions since 2011 and European Union sanctions since 2012.