South Sudan security forces abusing civilians - Amnesty

South Sudan soldier (file photo)
Image caption South Sudan's forces have been accused of looting as well as violence against civilians

South Sudan's security forces have committed "shocking" acts of violence against civilians, including killings and rapes, Amnesty International says.

In a report, the UK-based human rights group says the abuse has been taking place during a disarmament campaign in the eastern Jonglei state.

Amnesty urges South Sudan to take "immediate action" to end the violence.

The government in Juba has played down the scale of the violations, saying they are isolated cases.

New conflict fears

Amnesty says its researches interviewed scores of people in the region, who described widespread torture and abuse against civilians, including children as young as 18 months old.

It also says that in some cases the security forces looted property and destroyed crops.

"Far from bringing security to the region, the SPLA [South Sudan Army] and the police auxiliary forces have committed shocking human rights violations," said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty's Africa director.

She accused the authorities of "doing very little to stop the abuse".

The government launched Operation Restore Peace in March in response to ethnic clashes in Jonglei in which hundreds of people were killed.

South Sudan's Information Minister Barnaba Mariel Benjamin told the BBC's Newsday programme that any abuse was isolated and was being "handled responsibly by the government because the disarmament programme is being done side by side with the presence of the UN peacekeeping forces".

"To say that there is a widespread abuses... I think that is not true," he said, accusing Amnesty of being unfair by not asking the government for its comment before publishing the report.

BBC Africa analyst Grant Ferrett says the danger is that the alleged abuse could fuel resentment and a new round of conflict.

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