South Sudanese rebels allied to former Vice President Riek Machar who seized the city of Bentiu last week killed hundreds of civilians seeking shelter there, after determining their ethnicity or nationality, the United Nations said.
“These atrocities must be fully investigated and the perpetrators and their commanders shall be held accountable,” Raisedon Zenenga, the officer in charge of the UN mission in South Sudan, said in a statement on its website late yesterday.
Rebel forces said on April 15 that they had gained control of Bentiu, the capital of oil-rich Unity state, after clashes with government forces.
The conflict in the world’s newest state, between factions loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Machar, erupted in December and has left thousands of people dead and driven a million from their homes, according to the UN. As many as 7 million people are at risk of severe food insecurity in the coming year unless they get more help, development charity Oxfam said today in an e-mailed statement.
The UN mission said opposition forces entered a mosque in Bentiu where hundreds of civilians had taken shelter, and killed some after separating them on an ethnic basis. It said more than 200 people were reported to have died at the mosque on April 15, while civilians sheltering at other locations suffered similar attacks.
Rebel spokesman Lul Ruai Koang said that his group’s forces didn’t target civilians. If such attacks did take place then others were responsible, he said yesterday in a phone interview from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Some rebel commanders broadcast statements on local radio calling for sexual violence against women from a particular ethnic group, the UN mission said.
The mission said it had evacuated hundreds of civilians who faced the threat of violence, and is currently protecting more than 12,000 at its base.
South Sudan’s army said today at least 48 rebels were killed in a battle with government troops near Malakal, capital of Upper Nile state. An unknown number of civilians have been killed by insurgents’ shelling of the border town of Renk, also in Upper Nile, over the past 48 hours, army spokesman Philip Aguer said in an interview in the national capital, Juba. Rebel spokesman Koang said today he had “no confirmation” of the shelling.
The army also clashed with rebels in Jonglei state, while it withdrew troops from Mayom town in Unity in preparation for an offensive on Bentiu, Aguer said.
South Sudan’s oil output has fallen by about a third since the civil strife began. It’s producing about 160,000 barrels a day from Upper Nile, the only state still pumping crude. In an interview last month, Machar vowed to seize the Upper Nile oil fields.
Production in Unity state was estimated at about 50,000 barrels a day before it was suspended in December. It’s due to resume by July, the Petroleum Ministry said last week.
Peace talks between South Sudan’s government and rebels, scheduled to resume this week, have been delayed until April 28 “to allow for further consultations,” the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an East African bloc mediating the negotiations, said today in an e-mailed statement.