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Fresh fighting in Burundi after 17 die in rebel attacks

Government forces battled suspected rebels yesterday near the Burundian capital, a day after a series of rebel assaults killed at least 17 people, officials said.

Troops were fighting rebels from the National Liberation Force in Gihanga, some 10 miles from Bujumbura, said military spokesman Lt. Col. Justace Ciza. The skirmishes followed at least three attacks Thursday in the capital and elsewhere.

The government accused the National Liberation Force — the only rebel group in Burundi that has not signed a peace deal with President Pierre Nkurunziza's government — of instigating the fighting by shelling the capital with mortars and gunfire Thursday night for more than an hour.

The rebels want to "resume violence while they were engaged in a peace process," government spokeswoman Hassa Mossi said Friday.

But rebel officials blamed the military for attacking them first. Pasteur Habimana said the group's fighters fired back in self defense. "The government does not like negotiations," he said, speaking from Tanzania.

Ciza said Thursday night's rebel attack killed 15 people: four soldiers, 10 rebels and a civilian. The government spokeswoman previously put the death toll at 10. In a separate incident, two people were killed Thursday night in Kamenge district, district chief Mathais Barimwab said.

Local radio reported that six rebels were wounded and captured, and three soldiers injured in the attack. The wounded were being treated at a military hospital, Ciza said.

A number of civilians also were hurt, including a 7-year-old girl with severe injuries, said Jean Sindayigaya, head of emergency services at Roi Khaled Hospital.

Deputy Army Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Godefroid Niyombare said there were also attacks in the provinces of Kayanza and Bubanza. Three soldiers were injured.

The tiny East African nation has struggled to overcome a 13-year conflict sparked when paratroopers from the Tutsi ethnic minority, which had long dominated politics and the military, assassinated the country's first democratically elected president, a member of the Hutu majority, in October 1993. The conflict claimed more than 250,000 lives.

Nkurunziza, a former rebel, was elected president in 2005 as part of a deal to bring an end to the conflict.