By Jonny Hogg
KINSHASA (Reuters) - The number of reported victims of a recent mass rape by gunmen in Democratic Republic of Congo has risen by about 70 to as many as 170, the United Nations refugee agency said on Friday.
That would make it the biggest reported mass rape in Congo's turbulent eastern provinces since last year, when more than 300 women were sexually assaulted by suspected rebels in an attack spanning several days.
"According to our local partners, some 170 women were raped in the villages of Nakiele and Abala on the night June 11-12 during an armed attack," UNHCR spokeswoman Celine Schmitt told Reuters, adding the figures came from organisations working near where the attacks took place.
"During the violence armed men also looted health centers and stole livestock, which are essential for residents in this remote area," she said.
Medical charity Doctors Without Borders reported on Thursday that around 100 women had been sexually assaulted in the attack near the town of Fizi in South Kivu province.
An emergency response team is being sent to the area to verify the figures and help victims, Schmitt said.
The rapes have been blamed on a group of about 200 rebels who had been integrated into the Congolese army before deserting this month, U.N. backed Radio Okapi said on Thursday.
Several armed groups continue to operate in eastern Congo since a 1998-2003 war that killed five million people, and the government has struggled to counter them despite support from thousands of U.N. peacekeepers.
Last year, fighters from the Rwandan Hutu extremist group FDLR were suspected to be behind the rape of more than 300 women in North Kivu over the span of several days.
The U.N.'s special representative on sexual violence last year called eastern Congo the rape capital of the world, a label the government has strongly rejected.
(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Peter Graff)