South Sudanese troops went on a rampage in Juba in July, killing, raping and beating civilians, according to a rights group. It says UN peacekeepers failed to fulfill their duty to protect the vulnerable.
Government soldiers went on a rampage and carried out ethnically based attacks during and after a battle with opposition forces in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, in July, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.
The New York-based group said its researchers had documented "targeted killings, rapes and gang rapes, beatings, looting and harassment, often along ethnic lines," during four days of fighting between the army, loyal to President Salva Kiir, and troops supporting rebel leader Riek Machar.
The HRW report said many of the attacks targeted civilians belonging to Machar's Nuer ethnic group.
In an incident on July 11 also reported by the Associated Press news agency, HRW said the government troops carried out an assault at a residential compound housing international organizations, where they killed a local Nuer journalist, raped or gang-raped several foreign women, and beat and robbed people.
During the four-hour spree, neither the UN peacekeeping force stationed nearby nor various embassies, including the US embassy, responded to desperate calls for help, witnesses told AP.
The failure of UN peacekeepers to act on their core mandate of guaranteeing non-combatants' safety was corroborated in the HRW report, which said that the "peacekeepers did not venture out of the bases to protect civilians under imminent threat."
Army calls for evidence
A spokesman for the South Sudanese army, Lul Ruai Koang, called on HRW to prove its claims.
"So far, no one has come forward to give us concrete information to allow the army to take action against those accused of crimes," he said.
"We are challenging Human Rights Watch to come forward with evidence," he added, also saying it was premature to conclude that the army was responsible, though he did not deny the attack had taken place.
"Everyone is armed, and everyone has access to uniforms," he said.
South Sudan's conflict has grown out of a power struggle between Kiir and Machar, which has been fought largely along ethnic lines between Kiir's Dinka group and Machar's Nuer.
Civil war first broke out in December 2013, killing tens of thousands and displacing more than 2 million people. A peace agreement signed last year was meant to have put a final end to the conflict, with Machar becoming Kiir's vice president in a "unity government."
However, following the clashes between the army and opposition forces loyal to Machar in Juba in July, Kiir sacked his deputy. The move has done nothing to alleviate tensions in the country, which is continuing to experience frequent violence.
tj/dr (AP, dpa)