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"Nothing can justify" the terrible acts of abuse against women and children in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in recent months.

That's the view of Marie-Pierre Poirier, the Regional Director for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in West and Central Africa, in a statement issued on Monday.

The Kasais have been convulsed by violence between armed groups and government forces which has caused 1.4 million to flee their homes in the past year.

Matt Wells has more.

The majority of the civilians who have become refugees or internally displaced due to brutal conflict in the Kasais´┐Żaround 850,000´┐Żare children.

Ms Poirier said that their lives had simply been "turned upside down by widespread acts of extreme violence."

She said that apart from "terrible acts of abuse" many children had been drugged and forcibly recruited by armed groups.

The UNICEF official added that an estimated 400,000 children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition and more than 200 health centres have been destroyed in the Kasais; a large western region of DRC.

She warned that unless the violence stopped, UNICEF's best efforts to protect thousands of children would be in vain.

All parties to the fighting must protect children, she said, and humanitarians needed "unhindered" access to affected populations in order to reach all those in need of assistance.

Source: United Nations Radio