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UN to South Sudan Rebels: Free Abducted Civilians

FILE - Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA-IO) rebels walk during an assault on government Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers in the town of Kaya, South Sudan, Aug. 26, 2017.

The U.N. rights chief is urging the Sudan People’s Liberation Army In-Opposition to free hundreds of civilians they abducted in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria region between April and August. A report by the U.N. Mission in South Sudan and the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Office documents horrific cases of abuse and suffering experienced by civilians in the region.

High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet warns the continued captivity of some 900 civilians abducted by the opposition group led by Riek Machar could have a negative impact on the revitalized South Sudanese peace process. She says the government must hold perpetrators of abuses and violations detailed in the report accountable.

The report describes horrific cases of widespread abuse and gross violations of human rights, including unlawful killings, abduction, rape, sexual slavery, forced recruitment and destruction of property.

Eugene Nindorera, head of the human rights division of UNMISS, the U.N. Mission in South Sudan, considers the abduction of the civilians very worrisome. He says he is particularly concerned about the children - both boys and girls - who have been forcibly recruited by the rebels.

“I think the more important concern is about what has happened to the young girls. Girls were sometimes only 12 years old and they were chosen as wives for the military. They had to parade in front of them and then they could really choose whoever they wanted. And, they used them, and they were, of course, doing the rape and also sexual slavery,” Nindorera said.

The report documents attacks by the SPLA-IO rebels on at least 28 villages, a settlement of internally displaced people, and a refugee camp. It says a surge in violence between April and August caused 24,000 people to flee their homes.

UNMISS has identified three commanders who allegedly controlled the forces committing abuses, which it says may amount to war crimes. It says the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Forces, SPLA, also committed serious violations, including unlawful killings and destruction of civilian property, particularly around Nagero in May.