South Sudanese Army Abuses Spread to Nation's West, Group Says

  • Human Rights Watch reports killings, rapes, abductions
  • Violence spread even as government, rebels made peace deal

South Sudanese government forces carried out killings, rapes and abductions in areas of the country’s southwest since fighting spread there last year, Human Rights Watch said.

Clashes between the nation’s army and the rebel SPLA-IO group expanded to Western Equatoria state, even after President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar agreed on a transitional government in late August to end months of civil war. The shift was “accompanied by the familiar patterns of abuses against civilians,” including by insurgents, the New York-based rights group said Monday in a statement.

Army spokesman Marko Mayol said “individual soldiers” could have committed abuses and that the military in the capital, Juba, is awaiting reports from an area commander in Western Equatoria. “There are civilians calling themselves soldiers who put on army uniforms and commit violence,” he said by phone. “If it is our soldiers, we will act on them.”

Conflict broke out in South Sudan in December 2013 in a power struggle between allies of Kiir and Machar, his former deputy. Tens of thousands of people have died and more than 2 million have been driven from their homes, while some of the worst fighting has centered in oil-rich regions, crimping production.

‘Counterinsurgency Campaign’

Violence first reached Western Equatoria in May when intercommunal tensions fueled fighting between government forces and local militias, Human Rights Watch said. Government soldiers later “attacked civilian areas, burned and looted homes, and arbitrarily detained and summarily executed people,” actions that “appear to be part of a counterinsurgency campaign” against a group known as the Arrow Boys, it said.

Dickson Gatluak, deputy spokesman for the main rebel forces, denied they committed abuses. “About 90 percent” of people in the area support the insurgency, he said by phone from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. “So we don’t see any reason why we would turn against them.”

August’s peace deal envisions the creation of a hybrid court by the Africa Union to try the most serious crimes, though the continental body has yet to make “significant progress,” Human Rights Watch said.

“Rather than seeing improvements following the peace agreement, we are seeing continuous attacks on civilians and other abuses carried out with impunity,” Daniel Bekele, the group’s Africa director, said in the statement.

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