JUBA - The U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) on Friday accused rebel forces of committing serious human rights abuses when they overran the Unity state capital, Bentiu, and attacked nearby villages in late October.
UNMISS reported the accusations after U.N. human rights monitors interviewed 21 victims and witnesses to the October 29 violence in Unity state, as well as government and opposition officials.
"During the brief five hours that opposition forces found themselves in Bentiu ... a number of killings of civilians and abductions and rapes of female residents took place,” UNMISS spokesman Joe Contreras told South Sudan in Focus.
Men taken from church and shot
UNMISS says in the report that at least 11 civilians, including a baby and a teenaged boy, were killed by opposition forces as they swept into Bentiu. Among the victims were men who had taken shelter in a church when rebels launched their offensive on the major oil-producing town.
"After the 14 men were taken from the Catholic Church by (opposition) fighters, they ... walked to the cemetery," the report says.
For unknown reasons three of the men were released on the way to the cemetery, UNMISS reports. "The remaining 11 men were then tied together using their shirts, and told to hold on to each other’s shoulders. They resumed walking, stopping after about 250 meters, where they were ransacked for money and other valuables."
"After a further 300 meters, at the corner of a soccer pitch and a road, one witness reported that a boy between 15 and 17 years old was shot in the chest and killed." The report says the reasons for this killing are unknown.
The remaining 10 men were taken to Bentiu cemetery, where opposition soldiers opened fire on them, killing seven of the men.
In separate attacks, two women and a baby were killed in their homes, the report says. It says the opposition fighters suspected that the women's husbands were members of the national army, the SPLA.
Contreras said UNMISS has also compiled a list of 14 women who were allegedly kidnapped by opposition fighters when they overran Bentiu.
"One witness reported that as the women were being taken out of Bentiu, some were reportedly picked from the group by ... fighters and taken
into the bush, where they may have been sexually assaulted," the report says.
A survivor of the ordeal said that some of the women were forced to have sex with multiple fighters at night, the report says. The women were forced to walk for three days and two nights, some carrying wounded rebel fighters.
The report claims many of the victims appear to have been targeted because of their ethnicity.
Contreras said human rights abuses "...have been a regular feature of the hostilities that have been going on in South Sudan for over a year." He said both sides are guilty of committing the abuses.
In April, the U.N. accused rebel forces of killing scores of civilians in Bentiu, which has been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in South Sudan’s year-long conflict. In those attacks, civilians were shot in hospital beds and taken from churches and mosques and killed.
A few days later, a group of men stormed the UNMISS base in the Jonglei state capital, Bor, and opened fire on civilians who had sought shelter inside. More than 50 civilians are reported to have died in that attack, which the U.N. Security Council condemned as a possible war crime.