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BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - Security forces in Congo Republic have killed around 15 rebel fighters during a military operation in the central African oil producer's restive Pool region, authorities said.
The area - a stronghold of the rebel leader Frederic Bintsamou, better known as Pastor Ntumi - has been the scene of regular operations by the police, gendarmes and army for nearly a year.
In a statement released late on Friday, the security forces said they had targeted a group operating around the village of Renéville which they believed was headed by Pastor Ntumi's military chief of staff, Daniel Bayidikila Malonga.
Malonga escaped the initial clash and was being pursued, the statement said, adding that a stockpile of explosives, firearms and ammunition was recovered in the wake of the fighting.
The government has blamed Pastor Ntumi, who led a militia that fought President Denis Sassou Nguesso during and after a 1997 civil war, for deadly raids on police, military and local government facilities in the capital Brazzaville last April.
The violence followed a contested presidential election in which the opposition accused the government of fraud.
The unrest in the Pool region has forced thousands to flee their homes and sparked allegations of abuse by government troops from human rights groups.
Amnesty International accused the government of intentionally bombing residential areas last April, killing at least 30 people. The government has denied targeting civilians.
Reporting by Philon Bondenga; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Julia Glover