JUBA - The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) on Tuesday said civilians in South Sudan's Unity state have again been the targets of extreme violence, and blamed government forces and their allies for the abuses.
In a report released Tuesday, UNMISS charges that the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and associated armed groups waged a campaign of violence against the population of Unity state, killing civilians, looting and destroying villages and displacing more than 100,000 people during a surge in fighting in the state that began in late April.
U.N. investigators spoke to 115 victims and eyewitnesses from the Unity state counties of Rubkona, Guit, Koch, Leer and Mayom who for the report. They said SPLA fighters also abducted and sexually abused numerous women and girls, some of whom were reportedly burnt alive in their dwellings.
UNMISS spokesman Joseph Contreras said the investigators established that at least 67 civilians were killed in the violence. He said about 172 women and girls were abducted, and at least 39 women and girls were "subjected to sexual violence including gang rape." The investigators also said there were "at least 97 incidents in which women and girls were burned alive in tukuls after they were gang-raped in Koch County and elsewhere.”
UNMISS said survivors of the attacks told U.N. investigators that the SPLA and allied militias from Mayom County participated in the violence. The survivors said the assailants killed civilians, looted and destroyed villages and displaced more than 100,000 people.
UNMISS said its investigators were routinely denied access to locations of interest by the SPLA and also encountered logistical obstacles as they put together the report.
Contreras said the U.N. will continue to monitor and investigate human rights abuses against South Sudanese civilians. He said the authorities in Juba must also investigate the allegations that the army was involved in the latest atrocities.
“We call on the government to fully investigate these serious allegations of misconduct by members of its own army as well as associated armed groups who worked with SPLA units during this recent offensive," he said. "These perpetrators must be held accountable in order to break the cycle of impunity that allows such violence to continue."
Contreras said UNMISS provided advance copies of the report to South Sudan’s foreign ministry, the SPLA, and rebel representatives. But he said neither the government nor the rebels have commented on the report’s findings.
The SPLA spokesman, Colonel Philip Aguer, and Defense Minister Kuol Manyang did not answer repeated calls from South Sudan in Focus, seeking comment on the report.
One of two oil-producing states in South Sudan, Unity has seen some of the worst violence in the country's 19-month-old conflict. Fighting picked up sharply in Unity and the other oil-producing state, Upper Nile, in April after what were billed as last-chance peace talks for South Sudan stalled.
Figures released Tuesday by UNMISS show more than 78,000 civilians are sheltering in the U.N. Protection of Civilians site in Bentiu, an increase of nearly 11,000 since last month.