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900 people were abducted and 24,000 escaped

About 900 people were abducted and 24,000 forced to flee their homes during a surge in violence in the Western Equatoria region between April and August, according to a UN report released on Thursday.

The new report says the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in-Opposition (SPLA-IO) led by opposition leader Riek Machar intensified attacks against villages and targeted civilians in Gbudue and Tambura in April 2018.  It added that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA)’s offensives to dislodge SPLA-IO forces also resulted in harm to civilians, as these operations failed to distinguish between civilians and combatants.

The report, based on victim and witness accounts, indicates that women and girls as young as 12, abducted by opposition forces, were paraded and lined up for commanders to choose as “wives”. Those who were not chosen were left for other fighters who subjected them to repeated rapes. Abducted young men and boys were forced to be fighters or used as porters.

“Most of the abducted civilians are, as far as we know, still being held captive. The SPLA-IO (RM) must immediately release them, first and foremost the children,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. “As part of the revitalized peace process, it is also essential that the Government of South Sudan acts to hold the perpetrators of the abuses and violations detailed in this report to account.”

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNMISS, David Shearer, said it was disappointing that the spike in violence took place while warring parties were negotiating a new peace agreement and despite positive reconciliation efforts in the affected community at the time.

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“A new peace agreement has been signed which puts the onus and responsibility on the warring parties to ensure that no atrocities are committed in future. UNMISS will be closely monitoring any potential violations and abuses,” said David Shearer.

The report documented SPLA-IO attacks on at least 28 villages, a settlement of internally displaced persons and a refugee camp, in Gbudue and Tambura.

Serious abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law occurred during these attacks, including unlawful killings, abduction, rape, sexual slavery, forced recruitment, and destruction of property, according to the report.

UNMISS Human Rights Division says it has identified three SPLA-IO  commanders who allegedly had effective command and control of the forces committing these abuses, which may amount to war crimes.

The report pointed out that SPLA forces also carried out military operations that were characterized by serious violations, including unlawful killings and destruction of civilian property, particularly around Nagero in May 2018.

The UN report calls for accountability and for the reinforcement of existing recovery and resilience programmes to re-establish access to basic services, particularly medical and psychosocial support for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, and for the provision of economic alternatives for young fighters.

A report last month estimated that the conflict has caused more than 380,000 deaths either through violence or disease in South Sudan

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