The United Nations and South Sudanese authorities said on Friday they were investigating reports police had abducted and raped women during a disarmament program in the east of the troubled African nation.
South Sudan declared independence from Sudan a year ago under a 2005 peace agreement that ended decades of civil war. But its government has been struggling to assert control over a country still torn by ethnic tensions and awash with arms.
The United Nations said residents of the country’s Jonglei region reported police attacked women earlier this month during a push to collect weapons from the area’s fighting Lou Nuer and Murle tribes.
The announcement came after a group of aid and rights groups, including U.S.-based PACT, issued a report accusing the army and state police of beatings, harassment, killings, torture and sexual assault of civilians during the disarmament campaign.
The United Nations mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said it had received unconfirmed reports three women were abducted from Likuangole and another three from Manyabol on June 11.
“We are following up reports from (residents) that policemen are being accused of having conducted rape and abduction,” said spokesman Liam McDowall.
“We’re following up reports of quite serious outbreaks of disorder and we are supporting the South Sudanese authorities in their enquiries,” McDowall said.
The mission said two children drowned in a river when residents fled police shooting in the village of Likuangole on June 8.
Joshua Konyi, the commissioner of Jonglei’s Pibor area, said some policemen stationed there during the disarmament program took several women to Likuangole by force, ad ding that details were still unclear.
“Two ladies, one of 16 years and one of 13 years, were raped that night by the armed forces. We don’t know whether they are police or soldiers,” he said.
“I don’t know the details of who raped those women but according to what we heard, information we got from Likuangole, the ladies themselves said (the men) had military uniforms. I’m not sure if they were police or SPLA (army) uniform.”
“They (also) took three women from Manyabol,” he said.
South Sudan, one of the least developed countries in the world, is attempting to transform its army and police from a jigsaw of former rebel militias into regular forces.
Overwhelmed with the task of building up a state from scratch, the government has had little success in kick-starting development.
In January, South Sudan lost 98 percent of state revenues when it shut down its oil production in a row over export fees with Sudan.