By Parach Mach
JUBA, South Sudan (AA) – South Sudanese government soldiers have killed, tortured and raped civilians in the country’s Western Bahr el-Ghazal region, Human Rights Watch (HRW) claimed on Tuesday.
The alleged abuses, which include purported looting and burning of homes in and around the western town of Wau, took place during government counterinsurgency operations that intensified after an August 2015 peace deal, HRW said in a statement issued on Tuesday.
The South Sudanese military has denied the allegations.
A surge in violence began in late December and continued into the spring, after large numbers of new soldiers from Northern Bahr el-Ghazal and Warrap were deployed in and around Wau, according to HRW.
“Since December 2015, newly deployed, mostly Dinka, soldiers from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) have attacked ethnic Fertit civilians in villages and neighborhoods of the town of Wau,” its statement read.
The rights body said the abuses have forced tens of thousands of people to flee, leaving entire villages and neighborhoods empty.
“In the neighboring region of Western Equatoria, Human Rights Watch documented the army’s similarly abusive counterinsurgency tactics, also along ethnic lines, in February 2016,” it said.
Human Rights Watch cited local authorities saying that the deployment was part of a counterinsurgency operation against mostly Fertit rebels based southwest of Wau.
“Soldiers have also unlawfully detained scores of Fertit men for up to five months, without charge or access to legal assistance, in two facilities, one of them within Wau’s main military barrack, behind the commander’s office,” it said, adding that former detainees claimed “they saw inmates die in detention”.
“With all eyes on the new national unity government in Juba, government soldiers have been literally getting away with murder in the country’s western regions,” Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch was quoted as saying by the report.
“The new government should immediately call a halt to the abuse, free all arbitrarily detained civilians and support the creation of a war crimes court that can investigate and prosecute those responsible, including at the highest levels of authority,” Bekele said.
South Sudan Army spokesman Brigadier Gen. Lul Ruai Koang denied the allegations, telling Anadolu Agency the army command had not received information indicating soldiers were killing and targeting civilians anywhere in Western Bhar Ghazal, including Wau.
“The report is misleading. The SPLA general command has not received any information regarding atrocities in Western Bahr el-Ghazal. What we know is that the army is dealing with criminals who are part of SPLM-IO but continue to cause havoc,” he said.
South Sudan formed a transitional government after former rebel leader and now First Vice-President Riek Machar, accompanied by more than 1,300 soldiers joined President Salva Kiir in April.
The unity government seeks to end the two-year-long civil war which has left tens of thousands dead and forced over 2.4 million from their homes.