UNITED NATIONS, -- United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will launch an independent investigation to determine the circumstances around which peacekeepers in South Sudan failed to respond adequately to an attack on a Juba hotel compound where a journalist was killed and several civilians raped last month.

This comes after media reports said South Sudanese troops gang-raped, beat and robbed aid workers on July 11 at the Terrain hotel, a popular gathering place for expatriates in the nation's capital.

Ban has expressed alarm at the preliminary findings of a fact-finding investigation with reports emerging that calls for help from the UN went unheeded for hours despite blue helmets being less than a kilometre away.

The UN has launched a fact-finding mission in the immediate aftermath of last month's re-escalation in the conflict in which several peacekeepers were killed but as new details emerged this week in the media, it forced the UN's hand.

"The Secretary-General is alarmed by the preliminary findings of a fact-finding investigation by the UN mission to South Sudan into the attacks on Hotel Terrain in Juba on 11th of July in which one person was killed and several civilians were raped and beaten by men in uniform," said Ban's deputy spokesman Farhan Haq here Wednesday.

"The Secretary-General is also concerned by allegations that UNMISS (UN Mission in South Sudan) did not respond appropriately to prevent this and other grave cases of sexual violence committed in Juba. Due to the gravity of these incidents, related allegations and the preliminary findings by UNMISS, the Secretary-General has decided to launch an independent special investigation."

According to media reports quoting several witnesses, South Sudanese troops targeted an area popular with foreigners on July 11, fresh from winning a battle with opposition forces which has since seen former First Vice-President Riek Machar leave the capital.

According to witnesses, the troops allegedly shot dead a local journalist while forcing people to watch; they raped several foreign women, singling out Americans while beating, robbing and performing mock executions on terrified people.

"At this stage we are still gathering facts, some of the information that we have received helped contribute to the decision to set up this special investigation but in any case, the fact finding investigation is being completed and we expect to receive it this week and then it will be fed into the work of the special investigation," said Haq.

About what the investigations have uncovered so far, Haq said: "You'll have seen what the statement is, we don't have any further details to share at this stage while the process continues but those facts are going to be examined by the special investigation."

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both lamented a lack of tangible progress in setting up an African Union (AU) Hybrid Court to investigate and prosecute crimes committed during the civil war.

Meanwhile, the UN has announced that food rations for some 200,000 South Sudanese refugees in Uganda will be halved starting this week due to a lack of funding.

The humanitarian response to South Sudanese refugees in Uganda was already severely under-funded before the latest outbreak of violence in Juba, which has since prompted more than 70,000 people to cross the border into Uganda.

New arrivals have spoken of armed groups operating across various parts of South Sudan attacking villages, burning down houses, murdering civilians, sexually assaulting women and girls and forcibly recruiting young boys and men into their ranks.

The personnel making up the un'S special investigation unit are expected to be announced later this week.

Source: Name News Network

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