By William Davison, Jan 9, 2015
South Sudanese rebels allied to former Vice President Riek Machar killed at least 306 civilians when they retook the capital of oil-rich Unity state on April 15, theUnited Nations mission in the country said.
Insurgents murdered more than 287 people in a mosque in Bentiu, many of them traders from the Darfur region of Sudan and their families, while another 19 civilians were killed at the city’s hospital, the UN said today in an e-mailed statement. Two days later, a mob killed at least 47 civilians sheltering at a UN camp outside Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, it said. Those killed near Bor were mostly from the Nuer ethnic group, which makes up the bulk of rebel forces. A total of 250 people were wounded in the two assaults, according to the UN.
“Victims were deliberately targeted on the basis of their ethnicity, nationality or perceived support for one of the parties to the conflict,” in both attacks, the UN mission said.
Fighting erupted in South Sudan in December 2013 following a power struggle in the ruling party. Army commanders rebelled in three states when President Salva Kiir arrested rivals for allegedly plotting a coup. Dinka soldiers loyal to the president targeted Nuer in the capital, Juba, according to the UN. Tens of thousands of people have died in the fighting, while almost 2 million others have fled their homes.
Those killed in the mosque were fighters from the Justice and Equality Movement, a Sudanese rebel group also known as JEM that’s allied with South Sudanese government forces, said Lul Ruai Koang, a spokesman for the anti-Kiir insurgents.
“If there were any civilians killed then they must been killed in cross-fire,” he said today by phone from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. “We had no intention to deliberately target civilians.” Government forces have since regained control of Bentiu.
JEM is not involved in South Sudan’s conflict and has no fighters in the country, Gibreel Bilal, a spokesman for the group, said today by phone from London. “We confirm that all the people killed in Bentiu last year, and especially those killed in the mosque, were civilians.”
To “appease” the government, the UN in South Sudan has understated the killings of 300 civilians in the Bor attack and the massacre of tens of thousands of Nuer in Juba at the outset of the conflict, Koang said. “Why are they focusing on minor issues?” he said of the Bentiu allegations. “They don’t want to offend their hosts; this is where the problem lies.”
Both sides may have committed crimes against humanity during the conflict, the UN said in May. An African Union inquiry into abuses during the conflict established in March may report its finding this month, the AU Commission said in December.
Sporadic fighting continued in three states last year in South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, even after the signing of an agreement to cease hostilities in January 2013. Clashes occurred around Bentiu and at oil fields in Unity this week, according to the UN. More than 50,000 people were displaced from Rubkona near Bentiu, it said.
Another summit of East African leaders will begin Jan. 18 in Ethiopia’s capital,Addis Ababa, to try and resolve the crisis, Walta Information Center reported yesterday, citing Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom. Kiir and Machar will meet at the talks, the Addis Ababa-based website said.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a bloc of East African nations mediating the negotiations, has repeatedly threatened to sanction those who block the peace process.
By William Davison, Jan 9, 2015