New York: Senior UN officials warned on Tuesday that the ethnic killings being carried out in South Sudan could amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity punishable under international law.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had already said that reports of massacres will be investigated. Now two of his senior human rights officials said evidence of such crimes was growing.
"We are particularly worried about reports of an ethnic dimension to attacks, including in Juba and Jonglei, and the serious risk of an escalation of inter-communal violence," they said.
"In addition, targeted attacks against civilians and against United Nations personnel, such as those that have occurred in Juba and Jonglei, could constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity."
The warning came from Adama Dieng, Ban`s adviser on genocide prevention, and Jennifer Welsh, his adviser on the "responsibility to protect," the legal standard that governs UN action to save civilians.
The UN officials also added their voices to international calls for South Sudan`s President Salva Kiir and his foe, the deposed vice president Riek Machar, to negotiate a ceasefire.
Last week the rivalry between the men exploded in clashes between their armed supporters, and there have been reports of violence and atrocities between their Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups.
Two UN peacekeeping soldiers from India and a dozen Dinka civilians were killed on Thursday when Nuer gunmen attacked a United Nations base in Jonglei.
At least 500 more people have been killed in the conflict, according to official figures, and thousands have fled their homes.
A 7,000-strong UN peacekeeping force has been unable to contain the violence, and Ban has urged the Security Council to quickly approve 5,500 military and civilian reinforcements.
Yesterday, Ban warned: "The United Nations will investigate reports of grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity.