UN votes unanimously for more peacekeepers for South Sudan amid reports of mass graves, extrajudicial killings and rapes

Reports have moved the UN to action as tensions between ethnic Dinka and Nuer in the world’s newest nation escalate

Juba

The UN Security Council has voted unanimously to nearly double the number of peacekeepers in South Sudan to more than 14,000 and urged swift action to end a violent political and ethnic conflict that threatens to become a full-blown civil war.

Amid reports of mass graves, extrajudicial killings and rapes, tens of thousands of civilians have sought refuge in UN base camps that in some cases were described as under siege.

There appeared to be no sign of a rapprochement today between the central players in the crisis: President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and the former vice-president, Riek Machar, who is a Nuer, as the ethnic killings threaten the world’s newest nation.

“There are definitely ethnic undertones to what is happening,” said Toby Lanzer, the Deputy Special Representative to the UN Mission in South Sudan. “But this is a political struggle within the ruling party. It’s actually by addressing this that we are going to be able to get things under control.”

Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister, Tedros Adhanom, said leaders of six East African countries will travel to South Sudan today to try to advance peace talks and end 10 days of violence.

The crisis was sparked by fighting between Dinka and Nuer soldiers. President Kiir then accused Mr Machar of trying to orchestrate a coup. Mr Machar had denied the charge, but is leading a rebellion that has seized vital parts of South Sudan, including Bentiu, the capital of the oil-rich Unity State.

The fighting has spread to five of the country’s 10 states, including Upper Nile, another oil-producing region.

The Security Council action followed a report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, that at least one mass grave has been discovered in Bentiu, with “reportedly at least two other mass graves”, near Juba, the capital and South Sudan’s largest city.

Mr Lanzer told the BBC in an interview that the dead were numbered in the “thousands”. One peacekeeper has been killed, and several have been wounded.

The UN resolution authorises the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s request to temporarily transfer – with the permission of their governments – troops assigned to other peacekeeping missions in Africa, including in Sudan, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Congo. He said he has reached out to the African Union and countries such as Ethiopia and Rwanda, traditional suppliers of peacekeeping troops in Africa, and appealed to Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

Nuer soldiers and gangs have reportedly targeted Dinka in Bentiu, Bor and Juba, killing many and forcing tens of thousands to seek refuge in UN compounds.

Meanwhile, in interviews over two days this week, more than two dozen displaced Nuer civilians described a campaign of targeted killings, rapes and beatings by Dinka soldiers. The violence has included the alleged killing of scores of young Nuer in a secret detention facility and their bodies buried in four shallow graves.

Witnesses said Nuer men have been rounded up across Juba and many thrown in prisons for days, beaten with rifle butts or killed on the spot. Some had their hands tied up with wire, their arms and heads slashed with machetes, witnesses said. Dinka soldiers reportedly also set fire to and looted Nuer houses. Three-year-old Nyajing Gadet was among the victims.

Dinka government soldiers arrived in her Juba neighbourhood last week to hunt down Nuer, house by house, her mother recalled. Dinka neighbors pointed the soldiers to the family’s home.

Soldiers fired through the walls and windows. A bullet grazed Nyajing’s head, spilling blood down her tiny face, as her father held her in his arms. “They didn’t care if they killed a child,” said her mother, Elizabeth Nakiru, cradling Nyajing, who had a thick white bandage wrapped around her head. Both were inside a crowded tent in a UN compound where they had sought shelter, along with other Nuer. “They were firing on anyone who was Nuer.”

The South Sudanese military acknowledged on Tuesday that abuses against Nuer civilians had taken place and ordered a probe of the army – still referred to as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, or SPLA – as well as police and security units involved in the operations last week.

“The SPLA we cannot say is perfect. There might be people there who are not properly oriented as national soldiers,” said Col Philip Aguer, a spokesman for the military. “For us to build a nation, we have to carry out a serious investigation. This is bad behaviour, and it will create a big hole in the body of the military.”

Chiok Ring, 32, was stopped by Dinka soldiers in another part of the city. He and four other Nuer men, including his brother, were in his car, Mr Ring recalled. They were easy to spot: all had six parallel horizontal lines etched across their forehead with a razor, part of the Nuer initiation into adulthood.

One soldier barked: “You are Nuer. Come out.”

“Then, they started to shoot at us,” Mr Ring said. “My brother and my three friends were killed. I ran to a church and hid. There were women and children there, so the soldiers did not enter.”

Mr Ring made his way to the main UN base in Juba, joining an estimated 20,000 people who live in a sea of crowded tents, many made from blankets and fixed to muddy ground. They sleep on dirty mattresses and dry the few clothes they possess on barbed wire. They depend on aid workers for food and water. The stench of mud and sewage wafts through the sanctuary, which aid workers say has become a breeding zone for malaria and other illnesses.

Most of the ethnic attacks have targeted Nuer men of fighting age, although in some cases soldiers appeared to fire randomly into houses occupied by Nuer and assault Nuer women and children. Upon arriving at the UN compound in Juba last week, victims told aid workers that sexual assaults had occurred.

Nyajing’s mother, Nakiru, tried to return home last week. She had left some flour in their house, and she wanted to retrieve it to feed her children. But when she arrived, she found her Dinka neighbours had seized her house, she said. When she tried to break in, two Dinka soldiers spotted her and beat her. Like many of her fellow Nuer, she fears leaving the UN compound.

“Going back home will be like committing suicide,”  she said.

© The Washington Post

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence