Child soldiers fighting in South Sudan conflict, says UN


Child soldiers fighting in South Sudan conflict, says UN

The Telegraph, 18 Jan 2014

South Sudan’s conflict has turned into a “horrifying humanitarian and human rights disaster” with evidence of mass atrocities, child soldiers and human rights violations by both sides during a month of ethnic fighting, the United Nations said yesterday.

During a four-day tour of the country, Ivan Simonovic, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said he had received reports of mass killings, extra judicial killings, arbitrary detention, sexual violence, widespread destruction of property and looting.

“We received allegations of recruitment of child soldiers, we are checking those allegations,” he said.

Fighting began in Juba on December 15 but quickly spread throughout the country with divisions between pro-government supporters of president Salva Kiir and anti-government forces loyal to former vice president Riek Machar.

Mr Simonovic said: “What started as a political struggle degenerated into increasingly violent and ethnicised conflict” between the Dinka people, who support Mr Kiir, and Nuers, who support Mr Machar.

“It is appalling evidence of the horrors that ethnic conflicts in this country can bring to its population,” he said.

Philip Agur, South Sudan’s army spokesman, told the Daily Telegraph that rebel forces were to blame for human rights abuse.

“Let the UN investigate us, we welcome them here. We are ready to be investigated because there are no human rights abuse or looting by SPLA,” he said.

South Sudan is the world’s newest country, created in 2011 after a five-decade struggle against Khartoum that claimed two million lives. The former guerrilla Sudan People’s Liberation Army which led the struggle took power in the new country. Critics have accused Mr Kiir of an autocratic, corrupt regime that has failed to build the instruments of state.

According to a Human Rights Watch report released on Thursday that outlined “appalling crimes by both sides,” police and soldiers loyal to Kiir massacred between 200 and 300 Nuer in Juba on December 16.

HRW quoted one survivor as saying, “the windows were opened and then they shot through them. They shot me in the inner thigh, I fell and then dead people fell on top of me.”

The same report also outlines rebel forces killing civilians seeking refuge in the UN compound in Bor.

“Many thousands” were dead, Mr Simonovic said, and around 468,000 people are estimated to be internally displaced. Nearly 70,000 are seeking refuge in UN compounds across the country.

The UN’s opening of its compounds to civilians was “unprecedented,” and he called for an impartial fact-finding commission to be established.

Travelling to the oil-rich town of Bentiu, the scene of intense fighting last week, Mr Simonovic said he saw “horror” and one dead man bound behind his back.

“Destruction and death is everywhere in Bentiu, which has now become a ghost town. The extent of the looting is hard to grasp for anybody who hasn’t been there,” he said.

Jonglei’s Bor, where fighting continues, is a similar scenario.

“So far it is quite clear that both sides were involved in human rights violations [in Bor],” he said.

“The people of South Sudan deserve a better future than the situation now,” he said.