Middle East

UN experts: South Sudan soldiers raped children, burned people alive

South Sudanese soldiers raped children, burned people alive in their homes and hunted others for days in swamps in an increasingly brutal war the government had hoped to win with an emergency $850 million military budget, U.N. experts said.

A panel of experts who monitor United Nations sanctions on South Sudan obtained a copy of the emergency budget for January to July 2014, but warned in a report made public on Tuesday that it did not mean South Sudan had acquired everything it wanted.

South Sudan was plunged into a civil war in December 2013 when a political crisis sparked fighting between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebels allied with his former deputy Riek Machar. The conflict has reopened ethnic fault lines that pit Kiir's Dinka people against Machar's ethnic Nuer people.

Kiir is expected to sign a peace deal on Wednesday to end the conflict. Machar signed the deal last week.

The U.N. experts found that a government offensive in oil-producing Unity State between April and July this year had been "intent on rendering communal life unviable and prohibiting any return to normalcy following the violence."

"The intensity and brutality of violence aimed at civilians is hitherto unseen, in what has been so far — without a doubt — an incredibly violent conflict, where civilians have been targeted by all parties to the conflict," the experts wrote in the interim reported submitted to U.N. Security Council members.

Under a so-called "scorched earth policy" government-allied forces razed entire villages, sometimes with people inside their homes, raped women and abducted children, the experts said.

U.N. aid chief Stephen O'Brien told the Security Council on Tuesday that the scope and level of cruelty in the attacks against civilians "suggests a depth of antipathy

that goes beyond political differences."

Referring to examples of the recent violence in Unity State, O'Brien said: "A witness from Rubkona County has said that she saw government forces gang-raping a breast-feeding mother after tossing her baby aside."

The 15-member Security Council is discussing a U.S.-drafted resolution that would implement an arms embargo on South Sudan from Sept. 6 if Kiir doesn't sign the peace deal or if it is not implemented by both parties.

Russia's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Petr Iliichev said if Kiir signed the deal on Wednesday there would be no need to continue negotiations on the resolution, but added that if it was not implemented then the council could revisit the draft.

"Let's see how it evolves, maybe the main purpose (of the draft resolution) was to exert pressure," he said on Tuesday.

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