Officials in South Sudan say army troops entered a village near the capital, Juba, on Sunday and raped at least a half-dozen women and girls, some of them at gunpoint.
The alleged rapes occurred less than two weeks after South Sudanese President Salva Kiir issued a warning that soldiers who commit acts of rape and sexual assault will be shot.
An increasing number of rapes by members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) have sparked outrage among civilians and raised tension between the Kiir government and countries that pay for most of the war-torn country’s humanitarian needs.
The latest alleged incident occurred in the village of Kubi, 15 kilometers southeast of Juba. Local leaders say SPLA troops were deployed to the area after unidentified gunmen killed an army general last week.
Paul Yugusuk, Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Sudan and South Sudan, said two girls, aged 13 and 15, and several women were raped after SPLA soldiers entered the village.
Victim recounts attack
The 15-year-old told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus program that soldiers entered Kubi early Sunday and began shooting at random to scare residents.
She said two soldiers threatened and harassed her before they took turns raping her.
The 13-year-old told VOA that a soldier gave her money after raping her at gunpoint. She said the soldier told her that her life was no more important than the lives of soldiers who were killed in ambushes along Juba-Nimule road.
“He said we are lucky that they are only raping us and leaving us alive. He then raped me and gave me money. He said take this money; it will help you. I said, ‘You are giving me money?’ He said if I refuse the money, he will beat me. I got the money and threw it in the house,” she said.
Both girls were being treated for wounds at the Juba Teaching Hospital. VOA does not identify rape victims or victims of alleged rape.
A widow and mother of six in Kubi said she too was raped by the soldiers. The alleged rape victim said the soldiers threatened to kill her if she cried for help.
“He said, you have husband, your husband is not there? You people are the ones killing us in the nation. I said, father, I don’t have husband, my husband died. He said ‘No, you are the ones killing us on this road.’ He threatened me with my child in my house and then raped me,” she said.
Lokiliri County Commissioner George Ladu confirmed the rape cases. He said the attack caused about 3,000 residents to flee in fear.
“We have raised the issue to the high authorities. According to the legal channel, I, as the person in charge of the area, I think nothing more will take place. We call our people home and let the law take its course,” Ladu said.
Bishop condemns sexual assaults
Bishop Yugusuk said for two days the soldiers blocked a mother and baby wounded during the attack from to traveling to Juba for treatment. He condemned the soldiers if they carried out such brutal, criminal acts on defenseless women and children.
“We are very sorry for what has happened, in the eyes of our own army, our own protector is now turned against the civilians; raping them, beating them, detaining and doing all sorts of human rights abuses to our community, which is absolutely innocent,” he said.
Bishop Yugusuk said shortly after the rapes occurred, he spoke to the military commander in the area, First Lieutenant James Nyikur, in the presence of the alleged rape victims and some of the soldiers.
He said even though the women were able to identify some of their attackers, the commander failed to take immediate action and apprehend the suspected soldiers.
Ladu and Yugusuk said the soldiers arrested dozens of youth from the area, but later released them. Both men said four of the youth are still missing.
Army promises investigation
SPLA spokesman Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang said the army leadership has received reports some SPLA soldiers committed crimes and says those military leaders take the allegations seriously.
“They have formed an investigation committee. The committee will travel to the area where the alleged rapes took place and their intention is to do their investigation, identify the culprits and bring them to book,” Koang said.
A month ago, the United Nations mission in South Sudan reported it recorded more than 200 rape cases between July 2016 and January 2017. The report calls on the government to ensure that perpetrators of sexual violence are held accountable for their actions, to carry out justice for the victims, and to provide a strong deterrent so that South Sudanese men do not commit rape.