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African Union finds horrific war crimes committed in South Sudan

The African Union has found the government and rebels in South Sudan committed war crimes, including mass killings, rape and forced cannibalism. Investigators have called for a Africa-led court to try to perpetrators.

African Union investigators have found the government of South Sudan and rebels have both committed grave war crimes in a

conflict that is yet to abate despite a peace deal.

The long delayed release of AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan found President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, recruited irregular militias to organize killings of ethnic Nuer in Juba, in the capital.

Kiir had accused former vice president turned Nuer rebel leader, Riek Machar, of plotting a coup in December 2013, but the report published late on Tuesday found no credence to these claims and instead described a premeditated and organized plan of Dinka-on-Nuer violence.

The AU found that the conflict began after a skirmish broke out between Dinka and Nuer factions of the presidential guard due to political tension between Kiir and Machar, who had been fired as Kiir's deputy the previous July.

Organized violence

Ethnic Nuer were later rounded up in "an organized military operation that could not have been successful without concerted efforts from various actors in the military and government circles," the report found.

"Roadblocks or checkpoints were established all around Juba and house to house searches were undertaken by security forces. During this operation male Nuers were targeted, identified, killed on the spot or gathered in one place and killed," the report said.

The report describes a special shadow group of Dinka soldiers who after being mobilized in response to a 2012 crisis with Sudan had then been placed at Kiir's private farm near Juba. This group later helped carry out the killings, the report said.

The December 2013 events against the Nuer then triggered a spiral of retaliatory violence as Machar fled the capital and organized an insurgency that targeted ethnic Dinka.

Atrocities included the rape and murder of Dinka in churches and hospitals in the towns of Bor, Malakal, and Bentiu.

Fighting has continued despite a peace agreement being signed between the two sides in August to end a civil war. The young, poverty stricken country faces a

humanitarian crisis

as tens of thousands have been killed and more than 2 million people displaced.

Murder, rape and force cannibalism

The 342-page report describes a horrific list of abuses, including mass killings and graves, the rape and murder of people in hospitals, and forced cannibalism.

"There are reasonable grounds to believe that acts of murder, rape and sexual violence, torture and other inhumane acts... have been committed by both sides to the conflict," the report said.

"The Commission found that most of the atrocities were carried out against civilian populations taking no active part in the hostilities. Places of religion and hospitals were attacked, humanitarian assistance was impeded, towns pillaged and destroyed," said the report.

One of the most gruesome acts during the conflict included "draining human blood from people who had just been killed and forcing others from one ethnic community to drink the blood or eat burnt human flesh."

War crimes

The report said an internationally backed African-led court should try those responsible for the violence and war crimes. Investigators said a "highly confidential list" of possible perpetrators will be submitted to the AU's Peace and Security Council.

The release of the report was originally delayed as it was thought it could negatively impact peace negotiations.

cw/jil (AFP, AP)

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