JUBA The head of a South Sudan disarmament campaign dismissed a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report saying soldiers had raped, beaten, tortured and killed civilians during the campaign in Jonglei, the country's largest state.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan a year ago under a 2005 peace deal and is awash with firearms after a decades-long civil war with Khartoum that killed an estimated two million people.
Run mostly by former guerilla fighters, South Sudan's nascent government has struggled to assert control over its vast and restive territories since declaring independence.
HRW, citing local officials, victims and witnesses, said soldiers in the national Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), have committed the abuses since the disarmament campaign began in March, particularly in the eastern state's Pibor county.
The group urged the newly independent nation to investigate and punish those responsible.
Kuol Dim Kuol, head of the campaign in Jonglei, rejected the report and said the operation had succeeded in collecting thousands of guns.
"I believe those reports are not realistic," he told Reuters by phone from Jonglei.
The SPLA had mechanisms in place to hold unruly soldiers responsible, he said. "As I am talking to you now, I have about 30 SPLA who have been dismissed" because of abuses, he said.
South Sudan launched the campaign in Jonglei in response to a series of inter-communal and retaliatory attacks which began before independence and have killed thousands of people.
"In Pibor we documented cases of abuse by disarmament forces, particularly torture - torture in the form of soldiers dipping people's heads into water with the objective of extracting information about the location of weapons," HRW research fellow Elizabeth Ashamu told Reuters.
She said HRW had recorded beatings and killings as well as interviewing a victim of rape. A U.N. report issued this week said monitoring teams reported a dozen alleged cases of rape during the campaign in Jonglei.
A severe lack of infrastructure in Jonglei has hampered efforts by the government and relief agencies to assist tens of thousands of civilians made homeless by ethnic clashes.
South Sudan voted overwhelmingly for independence from Sudan in a 2011 referendum promised under the peace deal that ended the civil war. The two states are still negotiating issues including border security and disputed territories, and the two armies have clashed in border states since secession.
(Editing by Louise Ireland and Alexander Dziadosz)