S/Sudan rebels deny slaugh­ter claim

Daily Trust - - AFRICA -

Rebels in South Sudan have de­nied a UN re­port that they killed hun­dreds of civil­ians af­ter tak­ing con­trol of the oil hub, Ben­tiu, last week.

Brig Lul Ruai Koang told the BBC there was a se­cu­rity vac­uum af­ter govern­ment forces left the town.

The UN said that civil­ians were killed along eth­nic lines at a mosque, a church and a hospi­tal.

More than a mil­lion people have been forced from their homes since fight­ing broke out in De­cem­ber 2013.

The con­flict pits Pres­i­dent Salva Kiir, an eth­nic Dinka, against his for­mer Vi­cePres­i­dent, Riek Machar, from the Nuer com­mu­nity.

Al­though both men have prom­i­nent sup­port­ers from var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties, there have been nu­mer­ous re­ports of rebels killing Dinkas and the army tar­get­ing Nuers.

But cor­re­spon­dents say that the killings in Ben­tiu are among the most shock­ing since the con­flict be­gan.

The UN’s top hu­man­i­tar­ian of­fi­cial in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, told the BBC’s Fo­cus on Africa pro­gramme that he had seen “piles of [the bod­ies of] people who had been slaugh­tered” last week.

He said they all ap­peared to be civil­ians.

Non-Nuer South Su­danese and for­eign na­tion­als were sin­gled out and killed, the UN Mis­sion in South Sudan (Unmiss) said.

Some 200 civil­ians were re­port­edly killed at the town’s Kali-Ballee mosque where they had sought shel­ter.

At the hospi­tal, Nuer men, women and chil­dren, who hid rather than cheer the rebel forces as they en­tered the town, were also killed, it said.

The state­ment also said that hate speech had been broad­cast on lo­cal ra­dio sta­tions, urg­ing men to rape women from cer­tain com­mu­ni­ties.

Many of those killed were Su­danese traders, es­pe­cially from Dar­fur, Mr Lanzer said.

South Sudan an­a­lyst James Cop­nall says they could have been tar­geted be­cause rebel groups in Dar­fur are al­leged to back Pres­i­dent Kiir against the rebels.

But Brig Koang told the BBC’s News­day pro­gramme: “Our forces are not re­spon­si­ble for killing civil­ians any­where in Ben­tiu.”

He sug­gested that govern­ment forces and their al­lies could have been re­spon­si­ble in or­der to make the con­flict ap­pear as though it was “tribal war”.

Ben­tiu, cap­i­tal of the oil­rich Unity State, has changed hands sev­eral times dur­ing the con­flict.

Con­trol of the oil­fields is cru­cial be­cause South Sudan gets about 90% of its rev­enue from oil. A cease­fire was signed in Jan­uary but there has been a re­cent up­surge in fight­ing.

Rebel fighters re­main in con­trol of Ben­tiu, cap­i­tal of the oil­rich Unity State.

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