Burnt residential tukuls in Nhialdiu (UNMISS)

A new report by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) claims to have found evidence that the Sudan People's Liberation Army and associated armed groups in South Sudan engaged in extreme sexual violence and torture against civilians.

Some of the allegations are especially horrendous. Witnesses testified that in the northern state of Unity, there were at least nine instances where "women and girls were burned in tukuls (huts) after being gang-raped."

One survivor told the U.N. that she had been gang-raped alongside her neighbor by government soldiers in front of her 3-year old child, while a separate witness said she saw forces gang-raping a lactating mother "after tossing her baby aside."

"In one disturbing incident, government forces placed a burning-red coal in the palms of a woman and squeezed her palms into a fist," the report states, describing what was "an apparent attempt to force a confession about whereabouts of the opposition forces and the location of cattle."

The report comes after the UN staff members interviewed 115 victims and eyewitnesses from the Unity region, where the SPLA, the army of the Republic of South Sudan, and groups associated with it launched an offensive against armed opposition groups in April 2015.

UNMISS say that more than 100,000 people have been displaced in the fighting, with villages looted and destroyed. The organization also found that 172 women and girls had been abducted and sexually abused during the recent offensive.

“This recent upsurge, however, has not only been marked by allegations of rampant killing, rape, abduction, looting, arson and displacement, but by a new brutality and intensity, including such horrific acts as the burning alive of people inside their homes,” the UNMISS report says. “The scope and level of cruelty that has characterized the reports suggests a depth of antipathy that exceeds political differences.”

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after many years of civil war. However, in 2013, President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of forming a coup, sparking a new civil war. Government troops have since fought against soldiers loyal to Machar, and a total of 1.5 million people have been displaced inside the country and 520,000 more have fled abroad. There have been a number of allegations of human rights violations recently.

A spokesperson for Kiir told the BBC that while he did not believe troops had committed the crimes described in the UNMISS report, the allegations were "too serious to ignore."

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