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U.N.: 35,000 displaced by new fighting in Congo

  • Story Highlights
  • Thousands of people fee to Congo's borders with Rwanda and Burundi, U.N. says
  • The exodus is spurred by a new government offensive against the ethnic Hutu militia
  • U.N.: Total number of civilians displaced in South Kivu since January is 536,000
  • More than 1.8 million people are now internally displaced in the volatile region
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(CNN) -- A new outbreak of fighting in the embattled eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has forced 35,000 people from their homes, the U.N. refugee agency said.

Thousands of people have fled parts of South Kivu province and have relocated to Congo's borders with Rwanda and Burundi, the agency reported.

The mass exodus was spurred by this month's new offensive by the Congo government against the ethnic Hutu militia, Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda.

This latest uprooting brings the total number of civilians displaced in South Kivu since the start of the year to about 536,000 people, according to Ron Redmond, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees

More than 1.8 million people are now internally displaced in the volatile region, he added.

Some places in the region, such as Lemera and Mulenge, are like ghost towns, sitting nearly empty with almost 20,000 people believed to be hiding in forests in the area, the agency said.

"We are monitoring the situation of those most vulnerable, identifying people at risk and with specific needs, including victims of sexual violence and arbitrary detention," the spokesman said.

Several human rights agencies have said there is a rise in sexual assaults on women in the region. Human Rights Watch released a report this month that said the United Nations had registered 7,703 cases of sexual violence in 2008.

Military courts in the province convicted 27 soldiers of crimes of sexual violence during 2008. In March 2009, 11 soldiers were convicted on charges of rape as a crime against humanity, the report said.

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