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By Laura MacInnis
GENEVA (Reuters) - Some 5,400 women have reported being raped this year in one province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the South Kivu province, near Rwanda, was an increasingly dangerous place for non-combatants, especially for women.
"Night-time attacks against civilians by unidentified armed elements, and rape against women, remain widespread," Byrs said, describing in particular an October 5 rape of five women "by armed men believed to be members of the national army."
"One of the victims was killed, while the four survivors are being treated in a health centre," she told a news briefing in Geneva, where most U.N. aid agencies are based.
At least 5,387 cases of rape against women have been reported in South Kivu in the first six months of 2009, Byrs said, calling for the violations to stop and the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the biggest U.N. aid operations. Hundreds of thousands of people in the east of the country have been driven from their homes due to government fighting, many of whom need protection from violent attacks.
Byrs said in North Kivu province, about 110,000 people, including many who had been staying in U.N. camps, had returned to their areas of origin in the past two months.
"However, an estimated 980,000 people in the volatile North Kivu remain displaced and in need of continued humanitarian assistance," she said.
On the western side of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Byrs cited concerns about the thousands of Congolese who had been expelled from Angola since mid-July, many illegal diamond miners. That prompted Kinshasa to expel more than 20,000 Angolans it had hosted, including civil war refugees.
"While the situation of DRC nationals returning from Angola does not present huge humanitarian concerns at this time, there is greater concern for Angolans being expelled from the DRC," the OCHA spokeswoman said.
Between 20,000 and 40,000 Angolans are being held in the Bas-Congo province in dangerous conditions, Byrs said, warning: "The concentration of people in a relatively small area poses potential concerns in terms of health and sanitation."
Andrej Mahecic, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said a lack of clean water meant that many of those rounded up for deportation had been drinking river water, leading to acute cases of diarrhoea and vomiting.
There were "significant numbers" of Angolan refugees among those being forcibly returned to Congo, Mahecic said.
"Some of them say they had been rounded up and taken to the border despite the fact they carried documents certifying their refugee status," he told the Geneva briefing. "Others said they were forced back without having had a chance to take their identification documents or any of their belongings."
The two countries have pledged to stop the expulsions, but the UNHCR is concerned that further large-scale returns could resume, Mahecic said.