Bukavu: Armed men have raped 60 people in eastern Congo in the last 10 days, the latest in a spate of mass sexual attacks in the region, the United Nations said on Friday.
Two attacks took place in the villages of Nakatete and Kitumba in the Fizi area of South Kivu province from January 19 to January 21, Charline Burton, a spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said.
International health organisation Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) treated 60 people, including men, women and children, who said they had been raped in the attacks, she said.
"The humanitarian actors have been on the ground only very recently, so it is too soon to know who did this. But we should know more in the coming days," she said.
Several armed groups operate in eastern Congo since a 1998-2003 war that killed five million people in the central African state, and sexual violence has become common.
"This is no longer a crisis, it’s becoming a culture," said Nene Rukunghu, a doctor working at the Panzi hospital which specialises in helping rape victims.
She said rapes by civilians appeared to be on the rise, adding: "People ask, `why do the rebels come and rape us?` And they start to think it makes them strong so they copy them."
The UN`s special representative on sexual violence last year called eastern Congo the rape capital of the world, a label the government has strongly rejected.
Last year, fighters from the Rwandan Hutu extremist group FDLR were suspected to be behind the rapes of more than three hundred women in Walikale, North Kivu, over the span of several days. Earlier this month, Congolese soldiers were accused of raping 67 people in the town of Fizi.
Those attacks caused an international outcry over the level of sexual violence in the region, where more than one hundred and sixty women are raped each month in North and South Kivu, according to UN figures.