The United Nations mission in South Sudan accused the government Wednesday of spreading false claims that the UN camp near the scene of a massacre refused to shelter victims.
In a statement, the United Nations said South Sudan Minister of Information Michael Lueth was wrong to tell a news conference earlier Wednesday that residents seeking protection were barred from entering a UN base in the contested city of Bentiu. Many instead ended up in houses of worship, where hundreds were slain on April 15 and 16.
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The UN mission denied it turned away any civilians at its camp in Bentiu. It said the numbers of people sheltering inside the base rose from 8,000 on April 15, when the killings started, to about 22,500 by Wednesday. It added that UN peacekeepers helped rescue more than 500 civilians from the city hospital, where rebel soldiers on a killing spree had cornered them.
The UN also said that the minister, Lueth, was wrong to suggest that refugees were rebel fighters or sympathizers, and these remarks could encourage attacks on refugees inside UN camps.
Human Rights Watch called on the UN Security Council to investigate the killings in Bentiu and other deaths earlier in the month in Bor. The rights watchdog said the violence shows that ethnically motivated brutality against civilians is spiraling out of control. The Security Council is scheduled to discuss the South Sudan bloodshed Wednesday.
Violence has been raging in South Sudan since mid-December. Much of the fighting has been along ethnic lines, with supporters of the president, a Dinka, pitted against supporters of the former vice-president, a Nuer.
The violence is only one part of a dual crisis in South Sudan, a landlocked country that gained its independence from Sudan in 2011. Because of the fighting, more than one million people have fled their homes, and few residents are tending crops. UN officials say the country faces a severe risk of famine in the months ahead.