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UN opens inquiry over South Sudan violence

August 18, 2016

The UN has launched an inquiry into allegations that peacekeepers did not prevent abuse and sexual violence against civilians and foreigners in Juba. South Sudan says it's executed two soldiers guilty of atrocities.

Südsudan UN denken über Verstärkung von Unmiss nach
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/J. Patinkin

The United Nations has begun a probe after rights groups and witnesses alleged that UN peacekeepers had failed to act in the face of rapes and killings of civilians amid South Sudan's civil war.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman said late Tuesday that the UN chief was alarmed by reports of the July 11 attack on a compound popular with foreigners in the South Sudanese capital, Juba.

Rigths groups and a report fromThe Associated Press said South Sudanese troops went on a nearly four-hour rampage through the compound in one of the worst targeted attacks on aid workers in the country's three-year civil war.

Witnesses told AP that UN peacekeepers in Juba did not respond to calls for help as soldiers raped local women outside the UN's main camp last month, or respond when troops went on the July 11 rampage.

Chaotic situation

The South Sudan government said it's investigating. The army said it executed two soldiers two weeks ago by firing squad in the northwest town of Wau and detained 19 others for offenses ranging from murder to looting in Juba in the chaos that followed last month's fighting between government and opposition troops.

"These claims of rapes and human rights violations are serious issues and a number of soldiers have already been punished and capital punishment applied," Vice President Taban Deng told a news conference in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

After the reports of UN peacekeeper inaction were published, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Wednesday that a fact-finding report was underway and expected to be completed this week.

It will not be made public, he said, but its findings will be fed into the work of an independent investigation whose report will be made public. He said an announcement of the personnel who will conduct the independent probe was expected soon.

South Sudan officials have said the fact that the men were described by witnesses as wearing military uniforms does not mean they were either government soldiers or opposition troops, but added that they would investigate nonetheless.

Südsudan Präsident Salva Kiir und Vizepräsident Riek Machar
South Sudan President Salva Kiir, right, named a new unity government sharing power with former rebel leader Riek Machar, ending a conflict that erupted in December 2013. But a falling out this summer rekindled deadly clashes last month.Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Dhil

South Sudan rebel leader 'has left the country'

This comes as South Sudan's rebel leader has reportedly fled the country. Former First Vice President Riek Machar has gone to a safe country in the neighboring East African region, Mabior Garang, a spokesperson for the SPLM-IO party, said in a posting on Facebook. He is expected to make a statement Friday.

Last month's deadly violence in Juba came after President Salva Kiir's army clashed with rebel forces loyal to Machar that put the country's fragile peace deal in jeopardy. Hundreds of civilians were killed in the fighting.

Other deadly clashes have been reported in the southern region of Yei, according to rebel leaders and local government officials.

The UN voted last week to send 4,000 regional peacekeepers to Juba. The government has not yet accepted the force and Machar said he will not return to the capital until it is deployed.

The fighting began after Machar was removed as South Sudan's first vice president following a disputed change of leadership in his party.

South Sudan's civil war began in December 2013, and a peace deal was signed in August, 2015.

jar/tj (AP, Reuters)