April 21, 2014 (JUBA) - The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said on Monday that more than 200 people died in Bentiu after the strategic Unity state town fell to opposition forces last week.
- SPLA soldiers get off of a pick-up truck in Bentiu, Unity state January 12, 2014. (Photo Reuters/Andreea Campeanu)
UNMISS, in a statement, said it "strongly condemns the targeted killings of civilians based on their ethnic origins and nationality in Bentiu."
"More than 200 civilians were reportedly killed and over 400 wounded at the Mosque," the world body said in a statement extended to Sudan Tribune on Monday.
"UNMISS also strongly condemns the use of Radio Bentiu FM by some individuals associated with the opposition to broadcast hate speech," it added.
Fighting erupted in mid-December between soldiers aligned with former vice president Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir with the president accusing his ex-deputy of staging a coup, which Machar denied but now leads a rebel movement.
The fighting is often seen as pinning President Kiir’s Dinka tribe against Machar’s Nuer, although both politicians have supporters across irrespective of tribal affiliation.
Most army defectors accused government of President Kiir of allegedly using his Dinka armed men to kill Nuer civilians at the onset of conflict in the capital, Juba.
Both sides have been accused by Human Rights Watch of committing atrocities.
Bentiu has changed hands several times between rebel and pro-government forces.
But the UN, in it statement, accused the SPLA in Opposition of allegedly sorting civilians along tribal lines after capturing Bentiu.
"SPLA in Opposition soldiers similarly asked civilians who had taken refuge there to identify their ethnic origins and nationalities and proceeded to target and kill several individuals," the statement said.
The UN mission also said its investigators confirmed that when SPLA in Opposition forces captured Bentiu on 15 and 16 April, they searched a number of places where hundreds of South Sudanese and foreign civilians had taken refuge and killed hundreds of the civilians after determining their ethnicity or nationality.
"These atrocities must be fully investigated and the perpetrators and their commanders shall be held accountable", said Raisedon Zenenga, a UNMISS official.
He further reminded the parties of their respective obligations to protect civilians and called on them to immediately stop the targeting of innocent, unarmed civilians, and to respect the cessation of hostilities agreement they signed in January.
"At Bentiu Hospital, on 15 April, several Nuer men, women and children were killed for hiding and declining to join other Nuers who had gone out to cheer the SPLA in Opposition forces as they entered the town. Individuals from other South Sudanese communities, as well as Darfuris, were specifically targeted and killed at the hospital," the statement noted.
"On the same! day, the SPLA in Opposition forces entered the Kali-Ballee Mosque where civilians had taken shelter, separated individuals of certain nationalities and ethnic groups and escorted them to safety, while the others were killed," it added.
More than 200 civilians were reportedly killed and over 400 wounded at the Mosque.
"At the Catholic church and at the vacated WFP [World Food Programme] compound, SPLA in Opposition soldiers similarly asked civilians who had taken refuge there to identify their ethnic origins and nationalities and proceeded to target and kill several individuals," further stated the UN statement.
Hussein Nyuot, a spokesperson for the rebel delegation at the Addis Ababa talks, however, told Sudan Tribune in an interview that the UN statement as "untrue".
NUER YOUTH DENOUNCE KILLINGS
Meanwhile, a group of exiled Nuer youth on Monday condemned mass killing of displaced civilians sheltered at the UN camp in Bor, the Jonglei state capital.
Nuer Youth Union (NYU), in a statement extended to Sudan Tribune, demanded that South Sudan government be held responsible for the killings at the UN mission base.
"As a youth of Nuer we condemn in strongest term possible the senseless killing of Nuer children and women by the government of [Salva] Kiir in south Sudan," said Koat Gatkuoth Thoat, the NYA chairman Ethiopia.
“This is clear plan by the Dinka government to eliminate one Ethic community in south Sudan under helpless and silent watch of united nation in south Sudan", he added.
Thoat, however, urged South Sudan’s warring parties to refrain from attacking civilians.