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UN: 'South Sudan forces burned people alive'

South Sudan's government has denied allegations of atrocities detailed in reports just released by the UN and Amnesty International.

A UN report released Friday (11.03.2016) is accusing the warring sides in South Sudan of committing heinous crimes including the burning alive of children and disabled people. UN human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein said the fighters were permitted to rape women as a type of payment. The report futher says "state actors" bear most responsibility for the crimes. Zeid lamented that the crisis in the nearly 5-year-old country has been largely overlooked by the international community, and his office said attacks against civilians, forced disappearances, rape and other violations could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Prior to the UN report, rights group Amnesty International said that more than 60 people including young boys were arrested and later killed in October 2015 in Leer, Unity state. The victims, Amnesty said, had their hands tied and were forced to enter a container which had no windows or ventilation. Witnesses reported that they heard the detainees crying, screaming and banging on the walls of the container. Michelle Kagari, Amnesty's deputy director for Eastern Africa, said they sent researchers on the site where bodies were reportedly dumped and found even a month later some evidence of human remains. "We commissioned a forensic analysis of the images we took and the results were consistent with witness accounts as to the time they would have died and what happened after wards," Kagari told DW.

South Sudan's rebel leader Riek Machar (ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER/AFP/Getty Images)

Rebel leader Riek Machar (center) has yet to return to Juba as a final step towards implementing the peace deal

The government of South Sudan denies allegations from the UN and Amnesty International calling them baseless. South Sudanese presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said the incidents happened in an area which is controlled by the militias. He further added that most rebel groups wear the same uniform as the government army and those might have been the ones who killed civilians in an attempt to polarize the government. "We take seriously these allegations as a responsible government," Ateny Wek Ateny told DW. "We have launched an investigation. Should the finding point fingers to any individuals or groups, the government will put to account those responsible," he added.

Calls for international justice

A peace agreement to end the civil war was signed in August 2015. However, the parties to the conflict have yet to form a government of unity as prescribed under the deal. Separately, Amnesty International is calling on the Africa Union to set up the criminal court provided for under the August 2015 peace agreement. The rights group said it was concerned that there haven't been any serious investigations yet to identify the perpetrators of atrocities.

Friday's UN report recommends that the UN Security Council considers expanding sanctions already in place by imposing a "comprehensive arms embargo" on South Sudan and refer matters to the International Criminal Court if other judicial avenues fail.

Südsudan Flüchtlingslager (REUTERS/Drazen Jorgic)

Humanitarian situation is deteriorating despite the peace deal signed in August 2015

The UN says the human rights situation has "dramatically deteriorated" since South Sudan erupted into civil war in December 2013. The crisis stemmed from serious differences between President Salva Kiir and his deputy, Riek Machar, which boiled over into an armed rebellion.

Tens of thousands have died and at least 2 million people have been displaced from their homes. Machar has been reinstated as vice president part of a peace deal signed in August, but sporadic fighting and extra-judicial killings persist.

South Sudan's rebel leader Riek Machar has told DW last month that he was looking forward to returning to the capital Juba, in a final step towards implementing last year's peace agreement. However, South Sudanese presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told DW on Friday there were no signs that Machar would be in city by next week.

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