Skip to main content

U.N.: South Sudan rebels separate residents by ethnicity, kill hundreds

By Faith Karimi and Tara Kangarlou, CNN
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "We believe that at least 400 people were killed in Bentiu," top U.N. official says
  • They kill hundreds of residents seeking shelter in churches, mosques and hospitals
  • Men, women and children who refuse to cheer the rebels are also killed, it says
  • White House: This is the kind of violence South Sudanese have tried to escape for decades

(CNN) -- South Sudanese rebels seized a strategic oil town last week, separating terrified residents by ethnicity before killing hundreds, the United Nations said.

Residents sought shelter in churches, mosques and hospitals when the rebels raided Bentiu town, the world body said in a statement.

"We believe that at least 400 people were killed in Bentiu in the past week," said Toby Lanzer, the top United Nations official in South Sudan.

In one mosque alone, more than 200 civilians were reportedly killed and 400 others wounded, according to the United Nations.

Before the attacks, some rebel commanders broadcast messages on local radio warning certain groups to leave town.

Hundreds killed by rebels in South Sudan
Could newest country become bloodiest?
Students take notes during an English language class at the Juba Nabari Primary School in Juba, South Sudan, on Wednesday, April 9. Recent conflict in the country has made resources scarce; many civil servants, including teachers, have not received their pay for several months. South Sudan erupted in violence on December 15 when rebels loyal to ousted Vice President Riek Machar tried to stage a coup. Violence quickly spread, with reports of mass killings emerging nationwide. Students take notes during an English language class at the Juba Nabari Primary School in Juba, South Sudan, on Wednesday, April 9. Recent conflict in the country has made resources scarce; many civil servants, including teachers, have not received their pay for several months. South Sudan erupted in violence on December 15 when rebels loyal to ousted Vice President Riek Machar tried to stage a coup. Violence quickly spread, with reports of mass killings emerging nationwide.
Escaping violence in South Sudan
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Escaping violence in South Sudan Escaping violence in South Sudan

"Others broadcast hate messages declaring that certain ethnic groups should not stay in Bentiu and even calling on men from one community to commit vengeful sexual violence against women from another community," the U.N. Mission in South Sudan said.

At one hospital, Nuer men, women and children who refused to cheer the rebels were killed, according to the United Nations.

People from other South Sudanese communities and the Darfuris, who hail from the war-ravaged Sudan region of Darfur, were also targeted and killed, the U.N. said.

Most of the atrocities occurred on April 15 and 16.

In the United States, the Obama administration said it was "horrified" by reports of hundreds massacred.

"Images and accounts of the attacks shock the conscience: stacks of bodies found dead inside a mosque, patients murdered at a hospital, and dozens more shot and killed in the streets and at a church -- apparently due to their ethnicity and nationality -- while hate speech was broadcast on local radio," the White House said in a statement.

"This is exactly the violence and suffering the South Sudanese people fought for decades to escape."

Two rivals, a lot of violence

The Nuer community backs rebel leader Riek Machar while his rival, President Salva Kiir, is a Dinka.

The two leaders have been embroiled in a power struggle since December, with the President accusing Machar of trying to oust him through a coup.

Since the attempted coup last year, militia loyal to both have battled each others' forces. Violence has quickly spread, with reports of mass killings emerging nationwide.

""The very future of South Sudan is at stake in this conflict and the greatest death toll of this crisis may not come from the killings, but from hunger and disease among the 3.7 million people at severe risk of food insecurity," Lanzer said.

The White House called for both Machar and Kiir to denounce attacks on civilians.

Grenades, mass killings

Armed militants attacked a U.N. peacekeepers' base sheltering civilians last week, killing at least 48 people and injuring dozens.

They used rocket-propelled grenades to breach the compound where peacekeepers had been hosting and protecting nearly 5,000 civilians in Bor.

South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011 after decades of war. But numerous armed groups have remained active in the oil-rich country.

More than one million people have been forced from their homes amid the violence, Lanzer said.

READ: 48 killed in attack on peacekeepers' base in South Sudan, U.N. says

READ: Aid workers, patients bolt into wilderness amid violence

CNN's Millicent Smith contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:42 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Successful launch of lunar orbiter, seen as a precursor for a planned mission to the surface of the moon, marks significant advance for the country's space program.
updated 3:15 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, shot while standing guard at Ottawa's National War Memorial, was known for his easygoing manner and smile.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Non-stop chatter about actress' appearance is nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
CEO's 30-min Putonghua chat is the perfect charm offensive for Facebook's last untapped market.
updated 11:45 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Chinese leaders want less odd architecture built in the country.
updated 4:58 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Air New Zealand's new 'Hobbit' safety video stars Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, elves and orcs.
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
A 15-year-old pregnant girl is rescued from slavery, only to be charged with having sex outside of marriage, shocked rights activists say -- a charge potentially punishable by death.
updated 11:33 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
After sushi and ramen, beef is on the list of must-eats for many visitors to Japan.
updated 12:07 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Airports judged on comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service.
updated 1:48 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Scientists use CT scans to recreate a life-size image of the ancient king.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Despite billions spent on eradicating poppy production, Afghan farmers are growing bumper crops, a U.S. government report says.
updated 6:21 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT