KINSHASA - A gunbattle erupted Wednesday between soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwandan forces on their volatile border, local Congolese officials said, adding to tensions between the rival nations.

The fighting began after Rwandan troops crossed the border into the restive province of North Kivu and abducted a Congolese soldier, provincial army spokesman Lt-Col told AFP. “Our troops reacted forcefully and the (Rwandans) were sent back,” he said, adding that the situation was now calm but tense. Kigali and Kinshasa have long been at odds, with Rwanda accused by the UN of backing rebels in the strife-torn DR Congo.

Rwanda fought against the central government in Kinshasa in Congo’s two wars in 1996-97 and 1998-2003 and has been involved in several attempts to destabilise the country, backing uprisings by Tutsi-dominated militias.

However since the defeat in November of a Kigali-backed rebellion led by the M23 group, the border has remained relatively calm.

Local officials said Wednesday’s fighting erupted before dawn in Kanyesheza, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) northeast of the provincial capital Goma, and lasted over four hours. “I heard shooting... people panicked,” said one local resident who did not want to be named. But the governor of North Kivu, Julien Paluku, sought to play down the incident.

“There was shooting between elements from the Rwandan army and the FARDC (the Congolese army) in Kanyesheza,” he told AFP. “They were minor incidents, not fighting between two armies,” he said, accusing the Rwandan army of sparking the fighting. There has been no comment as yet from the Rwandan side.