JUBA (Reuters) – Unknown gunmen have raped 125 women during a 10-day spree of violence in the northern town of Bentiu in South Sudan, the aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Friday, but local officials disputed the report.
South Sudan has suffered a wrenching five-year civil war and, despite a fragile peace accord signed two months ago by the government and rebel groups, remains riven with ethnic grievances and awash with weapons.
Civilians from rival groups bear the brunt of the violence and cycle of revenge.
As well as rape, survivors of the violence in Bentiu also reported being whipped, beaten and clubbed with sticks and rifle butts, MSF said in a statement. They were also robbed of money, clothes, shoes and food ration cards.
“Some (of those raped) are girls under 10 years old and others are women older than 65. Even pregnant women have not been spared from these brutal attacks,” said Ruth Okello, a midwife from MSF.
The state minister for information in Northern Liech State where the attacks were reported disputed the veracity of the reports.
“A rape of such a magnitude is not true,” Lam Tungwar told Reuters. “We are a state (that) respects human rights and women’s rights top our list.”
Tungwar said local courts would tackle the cases of violence in Bentiu and other counties, but added: “I don’t concur with the current report because it doesn’t (accurately) portray us and the community in Northern Liech state.”
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir signed a peace agreement with rebel factions in September to end the civil war that erupted in 2013 and has killed some 400,000 people and forced a third of the population from their homes.
Previous peace deals have quickly fallen apart in the east African nation.
(Reporting by Hereward Holland in Nairobi and Denis Dumo in Juba; Editing by Omar Mohammed and Gareth Jones)