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Aid group says workers safe after Congo rebel attack

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Congolese rebels attacked a group of aid workers at a remote airstrip in restive eastern Congo Monday, forcing six of them to flee into bush before being rescued, a spokesman for the aid group said Wednesday.

The attack came just over a month after Mai Mai militiamen took an Indian pilot hostage for five days in an attack on the same airstrip, which doubles as the main road in the tin-mining village of Walikale in North Kivu province.

“Three of our American employees had just landed and were greeted at the airstrip by an American and two Congolese colleagues when gunfire broke out,” said Margaret Aguirre of U.S.-based aid group International Medical Corps.

“They fled into the bush.”

Aguirre said all six aid workers had been rescued after the fighting died down, denying an earlier report by a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission MONUSCO that two of the aid workers were being held captive.

The MONUSCO spokesman, Madnodje Mounaubai, said a joint force of U.N. and Congolese troops had set out in pursuit of the rebels, whose identity he said he was unable to give.

Eastern Congo is plagued by armed groups who continue to operate despite the presence of the largest U.N. peacekeeping force.

Some five million people have died in the country since the start of its 1998-2003 war, many from hunger and disease.

Reporting by Bienvenu Bakumanya; Additional reporting and editing by Richard Valdmanis