Congolese Mayi-Mayi fighters had kidnapped the election officials Oct. 23 at Burondo, in northeastern North Kivu province, and troops liberated them during a military operation late Sunday. U.N. Spokesman Col. Thierry Provendier confirmed the electoral officials' release.
"Some 40 Mayi-Mayi militiamen were killed by the army," Mutombo said. "One soldier was killed and three others injured."
A massive campaign has been underway to register voters in time for Congo's presidential elections, due before June 2006. The vote will be the country's first in 45 years.
Backed by U.N. peacekeepers, a transitional government set up after Congo's ruinous 1998-2002 war is struggling to gain control over the east, formerly held by Congolese rebel groups whose leaders have been given top positions in government, the AP reports.
On Monday, hundreds of government troops backed by U.N. peacekeepers began flushing heavily armed Rwandan rebels from North Kivu province. This is the first time Congo's government has used force against the Rwandan Hutu rebels since a deadline for the departure of all foreign armed groups expired a month ago.
The military operation has also been targeting the 300-strong Mayi-Mayi militiamen, who have refused to surrender their arms under a national program giving former rebels a chance to train to join the army or re-enter civilian life. A.M.