The United Nations warned Wednesday that entrenched suspicion was clouding a newly-minted deal to restore peace to South Sudan, as Amnesty International accused government forces of war crimes.
“There’s currently a key ingredient that is lacking. That’s trust,” said David Shearer, head of the UN mission in South Sudan, referring to the September 12 peace accord.
“Those who signed the agreement have in the past been former friends and foes,” he said. “From my discussions with them, suspicion is still widespread.”
The agreement was signed by President Salva Kiir and rebel leader and former vice president Riek Machar.
“We also need to see clear evidence that all the warring factions have the political will to stop the violence,” Shearer said.
“We have not seen anything concrete at the moment. What needs to happen first (is) we need to see a disengagement of the forces.”
Recent clashes in the southern region of Central Equatoria were the subject of an investigation, he said.
Government security forces had also shot a Nepalese peacekeeper in the southern town of Yei over the weekend, he added.
– Northern ‘war crimes’ –
South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, broke away from Sudan in 2011 after a long and bloody independence struggle.
But just two years later, war broke out, triggering a severe humanitarian crisis.
A struggle for power between Kiir, a member of the Dinka tribe, and Machar, a Nuer, meant the conflict quickly took on an ethnic character with civilians subjected to massacres and widespread rape by forces on both sides.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions pushed to the brink of starvation or forced to flee their homes in one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
In a report released on Wednesday, Amnesty International said it had uncovered evidence of “war crimes” in a brutal government offensive on Leer and Mayendit counties in the northern state of Unity.
It said the offensive began in April and continued until early July “a week after the latest ceasefire was brokered on 27 June”.
The ceasefire paved the way for last week’s peace agreement.
– ‘Shot, burnt alive, hanged’ –
“Civilians (were) deliberately shot dead, burnt alive, hanged in trees and run over with armoured vehicles,” it said.
Amnesty said its report drew on testimony from around 100 civilians survivors.
The group also documented “systematic sexual violence”, rape and gang-rape as well as abductions of women and girls, and the deliberate killing of young boys and male infants.
But Michael Makuei, South Sudan’s minister of information, lashed out at the report as seeking to sully the country’s image.
“These are the people who do not want peace for South Sudan,” he said.
“These are people who keep on sending such reports so that the international community is made to believe that South Sudan is not at peace.”
The details outlined in the report echoed the type of brutality that has been characteristic of South Sudan’s five-year civil war.
UN rights experts have warned of “ethnic cleansing” and the threat of genocide, while Amnesty has blamed the ongoing violence on Juba’s failure to prosecute perpetrators.
A so-called “hybrid court” to try war crimes and crimes against humanity, proposed by the African Union as part of a failed 2015 peace agreement, has yet to be set up.