U.N. evacuates civilians after latest east Congo attack

BENI, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) said on Saturday it has deployed troops to secure a corridor for people fleeing more violence in the east.

The mission, MONUSCO, said some 1,000 displaced people have been sheltered since Friday after they fled the town of Mweso, where Tutsi-led M23 rebels killed around 20 people since Thursday, according to the army and a civil society leader.

The attack was the latest fallout from fighting between Congolese troops and M23, whose offensives have forced tens of thousands to flee and worsened the region's decades-long security and humanitarian crisis.

MONUSCO spokesperson Ndeye Khady Lo said the fighting was taking place near the mission's Nyanzale base. She said the peacekeepers would patrol to protect civilians.

Guillaume Kaiko Ndjike, the Congolese army's spokesperson in North Kivu, said M23 fighters had fired indiscriminately since Saturday morning. "We are in the process of containing them in order to protect the population," he said.

Civil society leader Toby Kahangu said the rebels had seized control of Mweso, around 80 km (50 miles) from Goma which is the main city in North Kivu province, after launching early-morning attacks.

"They now have control of Mweso and are heading towards the villages of Kachiru and Kashunga," he said.

The army and MONUSCO did not confirm that.

The attack contravenes a ceasefire brokered by East African regional leaders and began the same day U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an appeal for peace in east Congo.

"I had the opportunity to speak both to the president of the DRC and the president of Rwanda just in recent days," Blinken said from Angola on Thursday. "Now that the (Congo) election is done, we believe that it’s an important moment to try to forge forward with diplomacy."

The conflict has sparked a diplomatic crisis between Congo and neighbouring Rwanda, which Kinshasa accuses of backing the rebels. Rwanda denies any involvement.

(Reporting by Yassin Kombi in Beni and Ange Kasongo in Kinshasa; Additional reporting by Faustin Mahamba; Writing by Portia Crowe; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)