South Sudanese rebels on Tuesday rejected UN accusations that they massacred “hundreds” of civilians in ethnic killings when they captured a key oil town last week, turning the blame instead on the government.
“The government forces and their allies committed these heinous crimes while retreating,” rebel spokesman Lul Ruai Koang said in a statement, while praising the “gallant forces” of the rebels.
“Claims that our forces are responsible is unfounded, cheap propaganda,” he added.
UN human rights investigators said that after rebels wrested the oil hub of Bentiu from government forces in heavy battles last Tuesday, the gunmen spent two days hunting down those who they believed opposed them.
The UN report said the killings continued after the army had fled the town, with the rebels celebrating the capture of Bentiu in a statement issued shortly after midday on the first day, April 15.
In the main mosque alone, “more than 200 civilians were reportedly killed and over 400 wounded”, the United Nations said.
Fighters took to the radio to urge men to rape women from the opposition ethnic group and said rival groups should be forced from the town, it said.
Civilians including children were also massacred at a church, hospital and an abandoned UN World Food Programme compound, it said.
But the rebels branded the UN reports “ridiculous allegations fabricated by enemies of war”.
Toby Lanzer, the top UN aid official in the country, told AFP after visiting the town of Bentiu he had witnessed the “most terrible sight”.
“There are piles of bodies lining the streets where they had been executed, in the market, outside and inside places of worship... the majority wearing civilian clothes,” he said.
Koang also rejected UN claims the rebels had used hate radio to encourage men to rape.
“On the use of Bentiu Radio, our forces and commanders use it to purely broadcast messages of peace, love and unity, not hate speech,” Koang claimed. - Sapa-AFP