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South Sudan rejects U.N. accusations of rape, killing by its soldiers

JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan rejected on Friday accusations from the U.N. that its soldiers had raped and killed civilians during and after ethnically-charged fighting last month in the capital Juba.

South Sudanese policemen and soldiers stand guard along a street following renewed fighting in South Sudan's capital Juba, July 10, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer

On Thursday, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said at least 217 cases of sexual violence in Juba had been documented during the period of July 8-25.

He called on President Salva Kiir’s government to prosecute the perpetrators and urged world powers in the U.N. Security Council to take “urgent action” to halt violence.

Lul Ruai Koang, SPLA’s military spokesperson, said the U.N., through the peacekeeping UNMISS force, should provide evidence that government soldiers were involved in the crimes, adding that they had not received any formal complaints.

“Regarding reports of rape reported being committed by men in uniform whom the U.N. thought were from SPLA, why are they not coming forward with the evidence they have collected for us to act?,” Koang told Reuters.

“We need this evidence to be given to us that our men in uniform took part in the alleged crimes in order for us to bring charges against them,” he added.

Fighting broke out in July between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his long-time rival Riek Machar, who has been replaced as his vice president.

Machar returned to the capital Juba in April after a shaky peace deal, but left again after the new clashes broke out, killing at least 272 people. He said he would only return after an intervention force is deployed to separate his forces and those of Kiir.

Machar and the SPLM-IO group he leads have been caught up with more than two years of on-and-off, ethnically charged fighting with supporters of Kiir.

On Thursday, Zeid, based on his office’s investigation, cited two separate incidents on 11 July in which SPLA soldiers reportedly arrested eight Nuer civilians during house-to-house searches in Juba’s Munuki area and took them to two nearby hotels “where they shot four of them”.

Politics in South Sudan have long been plagued by splits and rivalries as leaders switch allegiances in a complex contest for power and influence in the oil-producing nation, which gained independence from Sudan only five years ago.

Kiir sacked six ministers allied to Machar earlier this week replacing them with people allied to the new vice president, Taban Deng Gai, further widening the political dispute in the world’s newest state and drawing threats of more fighting.

Writing by George Obulutsa; editing by Ralph Boulton