Rape used for ethnic cleansing in South Sudan, says UN team

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KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — South Sudan is experiencing ethnic cleansing in several parts of the country and risks becoming a Rwanda-like catastrophe, a team of U.N. human rights investigators said Friday.

"There is already a steady process of ethnic cleansing underway in several areas of South Sudan using starvation, gang rape, and the burning of villages," said Yasmin Sooka, the lead U.N. investigator, earlier this week.

Rape is "one of the tools being used for ethnic cleansing," the U.N. investigators said Friday, adding that sexual violence in the East African nation "has reached epic proportions."

"The scale of gang rape of civilian women as well as the horrendous nature of the rapes by armed men belonging to all groups is utterly repugnant," said Sooka.

A U.N. survey found that 70 percent of the women in Juba, South Sudan's capital, had experienced sexual assault since the country's civil war began in December 2013, the team said.

The warning comes after the special investigators finished a 10-day visit to South Sudan earlier this week. They found that the South Sudan government is intentionally moving civilians from the Dinka ethnic group out of Yei, a town that has seen significant fighting near the border of Uganda and the Congo, Ken Scott, a member of the U.N. team, told The Associated Press on Friday in Nairobi. He warned that South Sudan's violence could soon spill over into Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia.

The core definition of ethnic cleansing is displacement along ethnic lines, said Scott.

"It can take many forms, obviously killing people is the most extreme, raping very close to that, destruction of property, destruction of schools," he said

The claims of ethnic cleansing come as the U.N. Security Council debates placing an arms embargo and targeted sanctions on South Sudan. Those sanctions are supported by the United States.

The international community should place sanctions, an arms embargo, and deploy a 4,000 strong force of additional peacekeepers to "avert catastrophe," said investigator Sooka, speaking in the capital of Juba, at a press conference earlier this week.

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