JUBA/UNITED NATIONS – South Sudanese soldiers have carried out a string of ethnic killings, including a massacre, house-to-house killings and rapes, following an outbreak of fighting more than a week ago, eyewitnesses say.
Two witnesses alleged they were arrested by government soldiers along with an estimated 250 other men, herded into a police station in the capital, Juba, and then fired on. The two witnesses, who were both wounded and managed to escape and take shelter at a U.N. base in Juba, said only 12 men survived the alleged massacre.
Testimony from several other witnesses also painted a picture of a pattern of ethnically motivated violence, including killings and rape, since the fighting in the world’s youngest nation started on Dec. 15.
South Sudan’s army was poised for a major offensive against rebel forces, the president said Monday, as the U.N. Security Council called for emergency talks in a bid to avert a slide toward civil war.
The French mission to the United Nations said the meeting would consider reinforcing the U.N. mission in the country, called UNMISS.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is urging the U.N. Security Council to add 5,500 troops and police to the 7,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission.
In a letter to the council obtained by reporters Monday, Ban proposed that the troops be transferred from U.N. missions in Congo, Darfur, Abyei, Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia along with three attack helicopters, three utility helicopters and a C-130 military transport plane.
France’s U.N. ambassador, Gerard Araud, the current council president, said he expected the council to vote Tuesday on a resolution authorizing the transfers.
The fighting is between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to Riek Machar, a former vice president who was sacked in July. Kiir accused Machar of attempting a coup, while Machar says the president has exploited tensions within the army to carry out a purge.
Rebels loyal to Machar have seized control of several areas north of Juba, where ethnic killings are also reported to have taken place.
The two victims of the alleged massacre said that they were targeted as members of the Nuer tribe, to which Machar belongs, and that the soldiers who carried out the killings were ethnic Dinka, the majority tribe, to which Kiir belongs. The testimony cannot be independently verified because the few journalists and aid workers in the city have found their movements severely restricted.
A reporter tried to visit the police station, situated in the Gudele neighborhood, but was turned away by men in uniform and plainclothes forces. But the stench of death in the area was overpowering, with flies swarming around. The walls of the building were also riddled with holes.
Another ethnic Nuer man, who was also sheltering at a U.N. base in Juba, said he fled his job in South Sudan’s presidential guard Sunday after witnessing a week of killings and rapes and fearing his comrades would eventually turn on him.
“There are soldiers doing this and militia of Dinka boys given guns,” he said, alleging that weapons are being distributed to Dinka youths from the president’s office.
He said that violent house-to-house checks are being carried out in Nuer neighborhoods, and that anyone not answering the question “What is your name?” in the Dinka language is dragged outside their home, tied up and shot.
The victims include women and children, he said.
South Sudan’s army denied its troops have been involved in any ethnic violence.
“This is not a tribal problem,” army spokesman Phillip Aguer said, denying that any soldiers in uniform are committing atrocities. “That is not true. There are criminals in Juba that have been killing people, and they were there before,” he said.