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South Sudan dismisses gang rape accusations, asks for peace funding

South Sudan dismisses gang rape accusations, asks for peace funding
FILE PHOTO: Council-mandated Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan Yasmin Sooka addresses the Human Rights Council 26th Special Session on the human rights situation in South Sudan, Geneva, Switzerland, December 14, 2016. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy -
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By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) - South Sudan's justice minister on Tuesday dismissed U.N. investigators' accusations that fighting and gang rape persisted in his country and called for $285 million (£218.1 million) in donations to fund peacemaking bodies.

Paulino Wanawilla Unango was addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council after U.N. investigators found that gang rape remained endemic in the north of the country with fighting continuing despite a September peace accord.

"I was a little bit surprised that...the chairperson went on again to state dramatically (there was) a serious situation of rape and gang rape, attacks and other things continuing. We don’t know about the issue of raping and gang-raping," he said.

Unango said South Sudan needed funding for bodies set up in the peace process. The government had put $1 million into a seed account for that purpose, and he appealed for international donations to cover the full $285 million budgeted.

The U.N. investigation, led by Yasmin Sooka, said its latest work had identified 23 individuals who bore responsibility for war crimes under international law and should be prosecuted.

Sooka described mass graves and torture at military detention centres where inmates had had their ears scissored off, been subjected to electric shocks that made them lose control of bodily functions, and forced to hang their faeces in bags overhead to avoid having to sleep in it.

"These are not random incidents," she said. "Rape and sexual violence are used as a tactic of warfare against women and girls by all of the warring parties to sow terror and fear amongst the civilian population. No one is safe – not young boys, the elderly or the disabled," she said.

Children as young as seven made up a quarter of victims. More than 8,000 youths had been recruited on a promise that they could seize women as sexual slaves, Sooka told the U.N. Council.

Unango said South Sudanese law penalised all offenders, and eight soldiers had been convicted of sexual offences.

He dismissed as a "gross exaggeration" a report by aid agency MSF that there had been 125 rapes in town of Bentiu over a 10-day period last November.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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