By Deng Machol
Juba – The United Nations says that violence had intensified in a Central Equatoria region of South Sudan since a revitalized peace deal was inked, with hundreds of civilians subjected to rape or murdered by warring factions.
In the press release on Wednesday the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said civilians had been “deliberately and brutally targeted” in Central Equatoria since the agreement was inked in September.
At least 104 people had been killed in attacks on villages in the southern region, it said in part.
It says in its latest human rights report that roughly similar number of women and girls were raped or suffered other sexual violence between September and April.
It continue said many were taken captive by armed groups to serve as “wives.”
The surge in violence has forced more than 56,000 civilians to flee their homes, becoming displaced in South Sudan itself, while another 20,000 have crossed the border into Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
South Sudan descended into war in 2013 after two years of her independence from Sudan after a decades of civil war followed a political disagreement between president Salva Kiir and former deputy Riek Machar, accused his former rebel leader Machar of plotting a coup.
The political conflict was being centered on ethnic violence and brutal atrocities, and left about 400,000 dead while uprooted four million from their homes.
UNMISS said overall there had been a “significant decrease” in violence across the country since Kiir and Machar signed the peace deal.
“However, Central Equatoria has been an exception to this trend, particularly in areas surrounding Yei, where attacks against civilians have continued,” the report said.
The report identified government forces, fighters allied to Machar and rebel groups ( the National Salvation Front (NAS), the South Sudan National Movement for Change, SSNMC) who did not sign the peace agreement, as responsible for atrocities in their quest to take territory in Central Equatoria.
In the first phase of fighting, that coincided with the signing of the peace agreement, at least 61 civilians were killed in deliberate attacks or caught in indiscriminate crossfire.
“At least 150 civilians were also held in captivity by these groups, including women and girls taken as ‘wives’ by commanders or raped and beaten by multiple fighters,” the report said.
The second outbreak of violence began in January 2019, when government forces launched military operations to dislodge so called “rebels” from the Central Equatorian region. The government forces carried out a coorfinated campaign to displace civilians from areas perceived to be providing material support to NAS and SSNMC, punishing those believed to be rebel collaborators with “sexual violence as well as looting and destroying homes, churches, schools and health centres.
In responding to the need to protect civilians, UNMISS says it deployed an additional 150 troops to the area, enabling it to intensify patrols within Yei town and to outlying communities to deter violence and enable the safe delivery of humanitarian aid, including actively promoting reconciliation and peacebuilding activities.
In the statement, the UNMISS chief has made a number of visits to the area to engage with political and military leaders about the human rights issues raised in the report, the impact of displacement and the need for reconciliation and peace.
“All parties to the conflict must comply with international human rights law and international humanitarian law.” “UNMISS is also urging the Government of South Sudan to uphold its primary responsibility to protect civilians and to fast-track the implementation of the SSPDF Action Plan to combat conflict-related sexual violence within military ranks, including those deployed in Central Equatoria,” it said.
The revitalized peace deal is latest deal signed by government and key opposition groups, but a plans to form power-sharing government in May, were delayed until November 12, after there was no funding to disarm, establish cantonments, rehabilitate and integrate militias and rebels across the country.