More than 200 civilians sheltering inside a mosque in South Sudan were killed after rebel forces seized the area last week, the United Nations revealed on Monday.
The UN condemned what it called “the targeted killings of civilians based on their ethnic origins and nationality” in a disputed town that is now under the control of anti-government forces.
The civilians were killed as rebels seized Bentiu, capital of the oil-producing Unity state. The UN mission in the world’s newest country described an apparent massacre after fighters ousted government troops. Individuals “associated with the opposition” used a radio station to broadcast hate speeches, the UN said, even urging “men from one community to commit vengeful sexual violence against women from another community”.
After rebels captured Bentiu on 15 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”, the UN added, citing the accounts of its human rights investigators on the ground.
At Bentiu Hospital, men, women and children from the Nuer ethnic group were killed for hiding and declining to join other Nuers who had come out to cheer the rebels as they seized the town. Individuals from other South Sudanese communities, as well as people from Darfur, were specifically targeted and slaughtered at the hospital. Hundreds more people, who were sheltering at a mosque and a Catholic church, were killed or wounded.
Toby Lanzer, the UN’s top humanitarian official in South Sudan, said in Twitter posts that there were shocking scenes of atrocities, with “bodies of people executed” lying in the streets of Bentiu.
Thousands of people have been killed in violence since December, when presidential guards splintered and fought along ethnic lines. The violence later spread across South Sudan as soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir tried to put down a revolt led by Riek Machar, the former Vice-President. The UN has warned of ethnically targeted killings as government troops and rebel forces lose and gain territories in sporadic clashes.