South Sudan’s government has recruited hundreds of child soldiers in Bentiu town in Unity State from September until October to prepare for a renewed conflict, a spokesperson for the SPLA-IO said.
SPLA-IO spokesman in Unity State James Yoach told Radio Tamazuj yesterday that government troops have so far coerced over 200 children to join their ranks in Koch area when they were going to the UN camp in Bentiu town.
“Since the past two months and up to now, more than 200 children aged between 14 and 15 years old have been forcibly recruited into the government forces in Bentiu,”said Yoach.
For his part, Lul Ruai Koang, spokesman of the SPLA army, outright denied the claims of child recruitment when contacted by Radio Tamazuj yesterday.
Lul claimed that the government army is well-organized and that it is capable of defending the people of South Sudan, saying they will not recruit children forcibly to join the army.
“SPLA is a government force and when we announce recruitment opportunities, people will come and join the army and the government will pay them, so this is not forcible recruitment,” he said.
“Those who forcibly recruit people are those who do not have the ability, but the government is capable, “he added.
In October, UNICEF announced that around 16,000 child soldiers have been recruited since civil war began in December 2013.
Troops kill women
South Sudanese government troops killed ten civilians including women and children in a “house to house” massacre at a village near the capital Juba on Monday evening.
The rampage took place at Kalipapa village in Kwerijik Bungu Payam located about 38 miles west of the capital Juba. After a failed military operation against rebels who had abducted travellers along the Yei-Juba road earlier, soldiers turned their guns on villagers.
Jubek State’s top law enforcement official confirmed the incident, as did a religious cleric hailing from the area. Frazer Yugu, Assistant Bishop of the Episcopal Church, said today that the incident occurred after a search by government forces for passengers who were earlier abducted along the Juba-Yei road.
“According to the villagers here, they said there were people who came around 7:00 pm, they came with guns, they were wearing government uniforms, some of them were wearing black uniforms of police operations, so they started shooting at civilians in the neighbourhood,” said the Episcopal bishop today in an interview with Radio Tamazuj after visiting the area.
“So they killed seven men and three women, we buried the bodies yesterday evening in Kwerijik Bungu, and four people were wounded, there were two men and two women,” he said. He pointed out that the government troops also took two men together with them after the incident.
A top official confirmed the incident in an interview with Eye Radio but put the death toll higher.
Jubek State Minister of Local Government and Law Enforcement Isaac Ribek Benjamin said the killings took place after a Sunday incident in which suspected rebels took six travellers as hostages and commandeered the car.
“And I think that resulted in the cause of the incident in which more than 13 people were shot dead. They were civilians, not soldiers; [They’re] women and children,” Ribek explained.
In an earlier interview with Radio Miraya, Bishop Yugu noted that the attackers targeted “people in the houses,” explaining, “even some houses are killed completely including the children and the mother and the father. They went from house to house. Then they started shooting.”
The massacre comes after President Salva Kiir and his Minister of Information Michael Makuei threatened violence against Equatorians in retaliation for roadside ambushes carried out by armed groups in the Equatoria region. A group of Equatorian diaspora leaders yesterday said that Kiir’s remarks amount to incitement of violence and that he “holds command responsibility and ultimate accountability for all atrocities and crimes against humanity committed by his forces.”
Santo Doming, the SPLA army’s deputy spokesman did not deny the incident but said that it lacked information about it and would investigate.
Rebels release abductees
Separately, Frazer Yugu said that about eight people who were kidnapped by the SPLA-IO rebels along the Juba-Yei have been released, out of about 14 passengers who were abducted by the rebels.
“Those who were held hostage by the rebels have returned to Bungu here this morning, they were eight, they said they were released, so they are here with us in Bungu,” said Yugu.
Credit: Radios Tamazuj, Eye, Miraya