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South Sudan talks follow damning UN report on atrocities

© AFP

Video by Catherine CLIFFORD

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-05-09

South Sudan President Salva Kiir (right) and former vice president Riek Machar are to hold face-to-face talks on Friday, after the UN said there was evidence that both sides in the country’s brutal civil war were guilty of crimes against humanity.

Warning of “countless” human rights violations during the young country's violent and ongoing ethnic conflict, the UN peacekeeping mission said, “There are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed...by both government and opposition forces.”

The UN’s report was released on Thursday amid preparations for the talks between Kiir and Machar (pictured left) in the Ethiopian capital aimed at stemming almost five months of bloodshed.

While both leaders speak of peace, fierce fighting still rages and the United Nations has warned of the risk of severe famine and genocide.

With a January ceasefire in tatters, the UN report said that “fighting continues with little hope that civilians will see any respite from the relentless violence”.

“Countless incidents of gross violations of human rights and serious violations of humanitarian law have occurred during the conflict in South Sudan,” said the report, based on more than 900 interviews with victims and witnesses.

“These include extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, rape, the direct targeting of civilians, often along ethnic lines, as well as ill-treatment and the destruction of property. These are crimes for which perpetrators bear individual criminal responsibility.”

‘Killed like chickens’

The conflict erupted on December 15 with Kiir accusing Machar, his former vice president, of attempting a coup. Machar then fled to the bush to launch a rebellion, insisting that the president had attempted to carry out a bloody purge of his rivals.

Then the army divided along ethnic lines, pitting members of Kiir’s Dinka tribe against Machar’s Nuer people.

The United States this week unveiled its first sanctions in response to the “unthinkable violence”, targeting one military leader from each side.

One of the sanction targets was Marial Chanuong, the commander of the government’s presidential guard force. US Secretary of State John Kerry said Chanuong had led attacks against civilians in and around the capital of Juba. The other was Peter Gadet, who Kerry said led rebel forces in an April 17 assault on Bentiu that killed more than 200 civilians.

US Ambassador to South Sudan Susan Page told a radio call-in show that she did not believe Kiir and Machar would be able to reach an immediate agreement.

“But if they can agree on a broad-based process on how to resolve the conflict, end the fighting, that would be a step forward,” she said. “People want peace. People don’t understand why the country should go into war just less than three years since independence.”

South Sudan broke away from Sudan in 2011 after decades of conflict with the Khartoum government.

The civil war has claimed thousands—and possibly tens of thousands—of lives, with over 1.2 million people forced to flee their homes.

The UN report detailed horrific killings, including in the first days after fighting broke out in Juba on December 15.

One Nuer man recounted to UN rights workers how army troops raided houses and shot civilians in the city. “Nuer were being killed like chickens,” he was quoted as saying.

“Witness after witness recounted their horror as they watched security forces enter their communities, sometimes in tanks and with heavy weaponry, and round up their relatives and neighbours,” the report added. “In some cases, victims were killed immediately; in others, they were taken to other locations and killed.”

In some areas, Dinka people were targeted for their ethnicity and killed, including in massacres in the northern oil town of Bentiu, where fighting continues.

Aid agencies warn that South Sudan is now on the brink of Africa’s worst famine since the 1980s, while Secretary of State Kerry echoed the UN human rights chiefs' fears that the country could slide towards genocide.

But as pressure builds to stem the brutal conflict, fears are growing that political leaders can no longer hold back their warring forces as communities spiral into cycles of revenge attacks, Amnesty International said in a report on Thursday.

Testimonies in Amnesty’s report describe civilians including children executed by the side of the road “like sheep”, gang rapes of women using sticks, and other victims “grotesquely mutilated” with their lips sliced off.

“The longer ethnic rivalries are allowed to deepen and fester, the more fragmented South Sudan will become, making reconciliation and sustainable peace much more difficult to achieve,” Amnesty warned.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)
 

Date created : 2014-05-09

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