The SPLM-IO and the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan have strongly condemned the rape of 125 women and girls in the Bentiu-Rubkona area. Picture: AP/African News Agency

Johannesburg - The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in Opposition (SPLM-IO) and the United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) have strongly condemned the rape of 125 women and girls in the Bentiu-Rubkona area.

Sunday’s condemnation followed a report by Médecins Sans Frontihères (MSF) on Friday which stated that the sexual assaults took place between November 19 and 29.

According to UNMISS, the women were intercepted by military and civilians in plain clothes while the victims were walking from their villages along roads near Nhialdu and Guit on their way to Bentiu.

"It is disappointing that this criminal act of rape still exists while the parties are implementing the peace agreement," said SPLM-IO military spokesperson Lam Paul Gabriel when reached by the Sudan Tribune on Sunday morning.

The opposition initially said that it planned to investigate the attacks in the areas under its control and bring those responsible to justice. However, it subsequently stated that the rapes took place in a government-controlled area patrolled by government forces.

The rape and abuse of women as a weapon of war in South Sudan’s civil conflict is not new but according to MSF, last week’s assault was unprecedented and bypassed the number of rapes registered during the past 10 months of this year which was 104 cases.

“These attacks on vulnerable civilians are absolutely abhorrent and must stop,” said the head of UNMISS David Shearer.

"The Mission has held urgent meetings with authorities and urged them to take immediate action to protect women and girls in the area and to hold the perpetrators of these terrible crimes to account," Shearer added.

In the wake of the sexual violence, UNMISS sent further patrols to the area in an attempt to prevent further such attacks and catch the perpetrators with the help of an investigation team.

"The Mission is also urging armed forces in the area to guarantee command and control over their troops to ensure rogue elements within their ranks are not involved in these criminal acts,” said Shearer.

African News Agency (ANA)