South Sudan army 'raped then burned girls alive'
The United Nations claims abuses by South Sudan's military of civilians in the country's war-torn Unity state have reached a "new brutality and intensity", with soldiers raping women then locking them in their homes and torching them.
The UN mission in the world's newest country said the campaign of violence against the local population by the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and its associated militias has seen villages destroyed and looted and human rights abuses on a massive scale.
More than 100,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since the civil war between those allied to the president, Salva Kiir, and those to his former deputy, Riek Machar, started 18 months ago.
The report, based on interviews with 115 victims and witnesses, follows another by the UN children's agency which claimed children caught up in the conflict were being castrated and tied together for their throats to then be slit.
Two-thirds of the country's population is now said to need aid but many aid agencies have been forced to leave because of the poor security.
The UN Mission in South Sudan, or UNMISS, said the worst abuses came when the government launched an offensive against rebels in late April, and that the "level of cruelty" involved reflected more than political differences.
"Some of the most disturbing allegations compiled by UNMISS human rights officers focused on the abduction and sexual abuse of women and girls, some of whom were reportedly burnt alive in their dwellings," it said.
Investigators said they were told of at least nine separate incidents where "women and girls were burnt in tukuls (huts) after being gang-raped" as well as scores of cases of sexual violence, which included numerous cases of mothers raped in front of their children.
Some were forced to squeeze hot coals while interrogated about the whereabouts of rebels or cattle, while others were "shot and killed" after being gang-raped, it added.
Rebel forces have also been accused of carrying out atrocities, including rape, killings and, like the government, the recruitment of armies of child soldiers.
UNMISS said it had sought to visit sites of the alleged atrocities to verify the allegations but it was routinely denied access by the SPLA, which has refused to comment on the latest report. (© Daily Telegraph, London)