The United Nations agency for refugees says tens of thousands of Congolese are fleeing renewed fighting in the southern Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In a statement, the agency says it will start registering the internally displaced Congolese next week, in order to better provide aid for them.

It says some 20,000 people have arrived at its center in recent months after being harassed by government soldiers and the opposition Mayi-Mayi militia. Many are reporting rape of women and children and the looting and destruction of entire villages by both sides.

In all, the U.N. estimates 170,000 Congolese have fled their homes in the region in the past six months as battles continue between government troops and the militia.

The United Nations says it is airdropping food relief into the region and has sent peacekeeping troops to the area.

Congo's first elections in four decades are scheduled to take place sometime this year. The elections will come four years after a 2002 peace deal ended Congo's five-year war, which left some four million people dead.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.