Tag Archives: Bentiu massacre

UN accused of giving arms to South Sudanese rebel commander before massacre

Washington Post

December 15 at 4:03 PM
The U.N. mission in South Sudan gave weapons to a top rebel general just weeks after civil war began three years ago, and his forces went on to carry out one of the war’s worst atrocities, according to a report released Thursday.

The Small Arms Survey, a ­Geneva-based research group, found that in December 2013
U.N. officials in the town of Bentiu in northern Unity state handed dozens of weapons, as well as ammunition, to rebel general James Koang.

Four months later, Koang’s troops killed hundreds of civilians sheltering in a mosque and a hospital in Bentiu, according to the United Nations and human rights groups. Koang has said in interviews that those killed were not civilians but members of a pro-government militia. The report did not say whether the weapons given by the United Nations were used in the massacre.

U.N. officials in South Sudan and New York did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on the allegations.

South Sudan’s war, which entered its fourth year Thursday, has pitted soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, against those backing the former vice president, Riek Machar, a Nuer. Tens of thousands of people have died in battles that have played out along ethnic lines, and U.N. officials and human rights groups have accused both sides of committing crimes against humanity. A top U.N. human rights official recently warned that the country is on the verge of “all-out ethnic civil war” that could result in genocide.

U.N. warned of possible ‘all-out ethnic civil war’ in South Sudan

Members of the UN Human Rights Council were warned on Dec. 14, that inter-ethnic violence in South Sudan could degenerate into a “Rwanda-like” genocide. (UNTV)

The United Nations established a peacekeeping mission in South Sudan in 2011 that has grown to more than 13,000 soldiers and police officers.

Throughout the war, the U.N. mission has found itself caught in the crossfire, accused by each side of supporting the other, with U.N. bases at times coming under attack. U.N. investigations, aid groups and research groups have accused the U.N. mission of failing to adequately protect civilians, including people on and near its bases.

According to the new report, U.N. officials in South Sudan said in interviews that they gave about 80 assault rifles, five machine guns, grenades and ammunition to Koang. At the time, U.N. officials in Bentiu reported to the mission’s headquarters in Juba that there had been a transfer of 40 rifles, the report said. It quoted an unidentified rebel, meanwhile, as saying they received 500 guns from the United Nations.

The weapons came from soldiers and civilians who fled to the U.N. base in Bentiu for protection during the fighting and handed over their weapons to peacekeepers, according to the report.

Koang, a soft-spoken Nuer who was the top government military official in Bentiu when the war began, quickly defected and took control of Bentiu. He asked the United Nations to give him the guns, according to the report. U.N. officials complied, apparently because they considered the general a friend, the report said.

“When [James] Koang took power, we all knew him,” said one unidentified official from the U.N. mission in South Sudan who was quoted in the report. “The majority of the opposition leaders in Bentiu had been our usual interlocutors. We had even trained them.”

The report said that U.N. officials in Bentiu asked their bosses in the capital for guidance on the matter but none came, so they made their own decision. A subsequent request by Koang for more weapons was turned down, it said.

The United Nations and the U.S. government have imposed sanctions on Koang, with the U.S. Treasury Department saying that his rebels had “targeted civilians, including women and children, with killing, sexual violence and attacks on schools, hospitals, religious sites, and locations where civilians were seeking refuge.”

Meanwhile, the chief of the U.N. mission in South Sudan at the start of the war, Hilde Johnson, tried to give the government in Juba weapons that had been collected from Nuer who had fled to a U.N. base there after government soldiers went door-to-door executing Nuer citizens, according to the report.

The U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York overruled Johnson, the report said, citing a cable sent to her from the headquarters. After Johnson stepped down in July 2014, her successor destroyed the weapons, the report said.

The Small Arms Survey report said the episodes reveal how the U.N. mission, known as UNMISS, struggled to maintain unified command and control and to understand that the South Sudanese officials on both sides who they had worked with before the crisis were now liable to commit atrocities.

The two cases show that ­“UNMISS failed to adapt quickly enough to the changed circumstances provoked by the conflict, and that it lacked neutrality,” the report said. “Both issues also show that the conflict triggered divisions within UNMISS” over which forces to support.

The South Sudan government still accuses the U.N. mission of supporting the rebels, in part because some 200,000 mostly Nuer people are staying at U.N. bases for fear of attack by government forces. The government has not presented evidence to back such accusations. People on the bases are also critical of U.N. peacekeepers, accusing them of standing by or running away when Kiir’s troops have sprayed bullets inside.

South Sudan – corrected version of earlier BBC story on Bentiu

BBC

South Sudan government forces battle for Bentiu oil hub

Alastair Leithead was at the UN base on the edge of Bentiu when government troops opened fire on the rebel-held town

Government forces in South Sudan have launched an offensive on the strategic oil hub of Bentiu, after it was taken by rebels last month.

A column of government troops and armoured vehicles were earlier seen driving towards the centre, they add.

Rebel forces deny UN charges that they killed hundreds of people along ethnic lines after seizing the town in April.

Bentiu, in the north, has changed hands several times since fighting broke out in South Sudan last December.

Tensions came to a head after President Salva Kiir accused his sacked deputy, Riek Machar, of plotting a coup.

Mr Machar denied the charges, but then mobilised a rebel force to fight the government.

Gunfire

The government offensive in Bentiu, capital of Unity State, comes two days after President Kiir told US Secretary of State John Kerry that he was prepared to hold direct peace talks with Mr Machar.

The BBC’s Alastair Leithead, in the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) compound on the outskirts of the city, says he has heard gunfire coming out of the town, suggesting the battle is not yet over.

South Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) national army soldiers patrol the streets with a pick-up truck after capturing the town of Bentiu, on 12 January 2014. The oil-rich town of Bentiu has changed hands several times in recent months

A long line of government troops in armoured personnel carriers, heavily armed, were earlier seen moving slowly towards the city, he adds.

On Friday, Mr Kerry secured an agreement from President Kiir to meet Mr Machar for talks in Addis Ababa that would be mediated by Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

UN peacekeeper keeps guard the Bor camp for the internally displaced in Jonglei state, South Sudan, on 29 April 2014. US Secretary of State John Kerry has called for more UN peacekeepers to be deployed to South Sudan

In an interview with the Sudan Tribune on Saturday, however, Mr Machar appeared to play down the prospect of imminent direct talks with President Kiir.

He told the Paris-based news website that he had asked Mr Kerry “what would be the purpose of transitional government”, adding that face-to-face talks “may be counter-productive”.

A truce negotiated between the two sides in January has been largely ineffective, with Mr Kerry warning of possible genocide and calling for more peacekeepers to be deployed in recent days.

A grab made from a video released by the UNMission in South Sudan (UNMISS) on 23 April 2014 shows displaced people in a camp in Bentiu, on 22 April 2014. More than a million people have fled their homes since the conflict began

The power struggle between the two men – who fought together in the civil war before South Sudan’s independence – has increasingly taken on an ethnic dimension.

Mr Kiir is a member of the country’s largest group, the Dinka, while Mr Machar is from the second-biggest, the Nuer.

Rebel forces deny UN charges that they killed hundreds of people along ethnic lines after seizing the oil hub of Bentiu last month – in what is said to have been one of the worst atrocities since fighting erupted in December.

The UN said that non-Nuer South Sudanese, citizens of Sudan and even Nuers who were not celebrating the rebel arrival in the town were singled out and killed.

The UN Security Council condemned the mass killings, and threatened sanctions against those responsible for the continuing violence.

Both sides have been implicated in atrocities and war crimes, and fighting has intensified with the rebels saying they are closing in on northern oil fields and several key towns.

The UN has about 8,500 peacekeepers in South Sudan, which became the world’s newest state in 2011 after seceding from Sudan.

Map of South Sudan states affected by conflict Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in mid-December. It followed a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar. The squabble has taken on an ethnic dimension as politicians’ political bases are often ethnic.
News graphic showing the ethnic groups of South Sudan Sudan’s arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
Map showing the location of oil fields in South Sudan Both Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounts for 98% of South Sudan’s budget. They have fiercely disagreed over how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state – at one time production was shutdown for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north.
Map showing the geography of South Sudan The two Sudans are very different geographically. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
Map showing access to water in South Sudan After gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan is the world’s newest country – and one of its poorest. Figures from 2010 show some 69% of households now have access to clean water – up from 48% in 2006. However, just 2% of households have water on the premises.
Map showing education levels in South Sudan Just 29% of children attend primary school in South Sudan – however, this is also an improvement on the 16% recorded in 2006. About 32% of primary-age boys attend, while just 25% of girls do. Overall, 64% of children who begin primary school reach the last grade.
Map showing food insecurity rates in South Sudan Almost 28% of children under the age of five in South Sudan are moderately or severely underweight. This compares with the 33% recorded in 2006. Unity state has the highest proportion of children suffering malnourishment (46%), while Central Equatoria has the lowest (17%).