Africa

Hate speech becomes 'game-changer: UN

David Smith

A massacre in South Sudan, fuelled by hate speech on a radio station, was a "game-changer" in the country's four-month conflict, says an official.

The government says its forces are battling rebels in three key states as Machar's fighters continue an offensive targeting oil fields. (Reuters)

A top humanitarian official of the United Nations (UN) said this week that a massacre in South Sudan, fuelled by hate speech on a public radio station, was a "game-changer" in the country's four-month conflict.

Toby Lanzer said he saw "piles and piles" of bodies on a visit to the oil hub of Bentiu after rebels wiped out civilians based on their ethnicity and nationality. TV pictures showed corpses lying outside a mosque and piled up on a mechanical digger.

It is the worst single atrocity since fighting broke out in the world's newest country last December, and raises the prospect of a civil war along ethnic lines, adding pressure on the world to intervene.

According to the UN, rebels slaughtered hundreds when they seized Bentiu, the capital of Unity state, hunting down men, women and children who had sought refuge in a hospital, a mosque and a Catholic church. The victims included Sudanese traders.

The rebels issued a statement boasting of "mopping- and cleaning-up operations", the UN alleged, and fighters took to the radio to urge men to rape women of specific ethnicities and demand rival groups be expelled from the town.

Lanzer, who was in Bentiu on Sunday and Monday, said thousands of civilians were then streaming to the UN base in Bentiu, fearing more violence. The cramped base holds 25 000 people and has little water or facilities.

A rebel spokesperson, Lul Ruai Koang, dismissed the UN accusations as "unfounded, cheap propaganda". He put the blame on government forces.

What began as a political power struggle has quickly assumed an ethnic dimension, pitting President Salva Kiir's Dinka tribe against militia forces from the former vice-president Riek Machar's Nuer people. Peace talks have failed to stem the flow of atrocities on both sides.

The fighting has left thousands dead and forced about a million people to flee. The government says its forces are battling rebels in three key states as Machar's fighters continue an offensive targeting oil fields. Peace talks are due to restart in neighbouring Ethiopia this month.

The United States has threatened sanctions against those responsible for fuelling the conflict. – © Guardian News & Media 2014

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