Ivan Simonovic, UN assistant secretary-general for human rights, cited child soldiers, mass killings, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detentions and sexual violence in a press conference on Friday as he wrapped up a four-day visit to the South Sudan. He also called for a fact-finding commission to investigate the crimes and hold those responsible accountable. Simonovic did not call the month-long fighting a civil war but an "internal armed conflict" with ethnic dimensions between the Dinka and Nuer tribes.
"Quite a number of child soldiers have been recruited in the so-called White Army," he said, referring to a militia fighting in Jonglei state. "We are thoroughly investigating these allegations."
According to the UN, 468,000 civilians have fled their homes as the violence spiraled into ethnic killings between members of President Salva Kiir's Dinka people - the country's largest group - and the Nuer community backing Riek Machar. UN officials fear the conflict could lead to more than 100,000 refugees by the end of January.
"It is punishable not only to command and commit crime but to not prevent them when you could and should have," Simonovic said.
'Not in control'
Troops loyal to the president and rebels backing Machar - the deputy Kiir sacked in July after accusing him of plotting a coup - have fought since mid-December. On Friday, South Sudan's defense minister said Machar did not have enough control over his fighters to make a ceasefire hold, as peace talks dragged on with no sign of a deal.
"(Machar) is not in control of these people," Kuol Manyang Juuk told the news agency Reuters. "So even if a peace agreement is signed, or cessation of hostilities, these people who are not under the control of Machar will continue creating insecurity for the people and government."
Juuk said his government could ask Sudan for help should the conflict threaten oilfields. The south pumps its oil through a pipeline in Sudan, from which it split in 2011, and gives the country a cut of revenues from the international market. Oil output has slipped to about 200,000 barrels per day, from about 245,000 before the fighting.
"We cannot make a unilateral ceasefire because it is they who are attacking the civil population and government positions," Juuk said.
Juuk also shrugged off the rebels' criticism of the role of Ugandan troops in South Sudan.
"We have requested support from Uganda," Juuk said. "It is not a new situation, countries seek support from other countries whenever they are in trouble."
The two sides have attempted to negotiate a ceasefire deal at a luxury hotel in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, but agreements have proved elusive. Rebel demands include that Ugandan troops deployed in South Sudan stop supporting government forces in combat. On Friday, the European Union announced that it would provide 1.1 million euros ($1.4 million) to support the talks to stop South Sudan from "descending into a civil war."
mkg/dr (Reuters, AFP, AP)