South Sudan: Murle torture in Jonglei denied by army

Victims of ethnic violence in Jonglei, South Sudan, wait in Pibor to receive emergency food rations, 12 January 2012
Image caption Cattle vendettas are common in Jonglei and many tens of thousands of people have been displaced

South Sudan's army has denied that its soldiers have killed and tortured members of the minority Murle community during a disarmament campaign.

"That is not true, that is a lie," army spokesman Col Philip Aguer told the BBC in response to the allegations made by aid workers and community leaders.

The disarmament of rival cattle-herding groups in Jonglei state began in March.

Over the last year, more than 1,000 people have died in violence between the Murle and Lou Nuer communities.

Ten of thousands of people have also been displaced in Jonglei state in the two outbreaks of clashes linked to cattle raids - one last August by the Murle and another revenge attack by the Lou Nuer in January.

South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan last July, is awash with small arms after decades of civil war that ended in 2005.

Cattle lie at the heart of life for many communities in the country which has hardly any banks - they represent wealth, a dowry, property and a source of food in the lean season. A single cow can be worth hundreds of dollars depending on its colouring.

'Simulated drownings'

In March thousands of members of the security forces deployed to Jonglei to collect an estimated 30,000 weapons from civilians.

But it is alleged the Murle community has suffered during the disarmament campaign.

According to the Associated Press agency, alleged abuses include simulated drownings, tying up young men to trees and beating them - and the widespread rape of women.

The charity Medecins Sans Frontieres says that since mid-March it has treated more than 30 people who had suffered injuries as a result of the disarmament programme.

"We're sure our forces on the ground are not rampant - doing what the report is talking about," Col Aguer told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

He urged those making the allegations to go to Jonglei and investigate.

"There are groups and organisations that would like to see a Congo scenario where private armies will develop and bring other business," he said.

The colonel said the disarmament process in Jonglei had been done in consultation with local leaders and would not be suspended in light of the allegations.

"We are sure that this is the way we can create safety," he said.

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