GOMA - At least seven civilians were killed in a weekend attack by Ugandan rebels in the restive east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a regional official told AFP on Sunday.

But a local NGO put the toll at nine dead, saying most of them had been killed with machetes. Officials said the attack took place on Saturday near Mbau in the northern sector of the troubled North Kivu province in an area where there were no government troops. "Last night we found three bodies and today four more, which makes seven dead," Amisi Kalonda, a top official in the regional capital of Beni, told AFP. The violence took place in an area from which many people had been evacuated because of the threat from the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), he said.

The ADF has been accused of killing more than 400 villagers over the last 10 months, most of whom were slaughtered with machetes and farm implements. In a statement issued late on Sunday, the Beni-based Study Centre for the Promotion of Peace, Democracy and Human Rights said a total of nine people had been killed.

Most of them had been killed with machetes, and either had their throats slit or had been decapitated, it said. Officials could not immediately confirm the higher toll. The mostly Muslim rebels, who are said to number around 400, have been active in the region since being driven out of their homeland in 1995.