Nairobi: The United Nations has discovered a mass grave containing about 75 bodies in South Sudan, the world body said on Tuesday, evidence of the wave of ethnic killings taking place in the world`s newest country over the last week.
Word of the mass grave came as South Sudan undertook military operations to wrest back control of the city of Bor from rebels loyal to the country`s former vice president. One potential complicating factor: The military said armed elements have entered a UN refugee camp in Bor that holds about 17,000 civilians.
The mass grave was found in Bentiu, said UN`s human rights chief Navi Pillay. At least two other mass graves are reported to have been found in Juba, she said in a statement today.
The bodies in Bentiu reportedly belonged to the ethnic Dinka, who were members of the Sudan People`s Liberation Army, said Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the Geneva-based human rights office.
Responding to the discovery, the government minister of information Michael Makuei Lueth said, "Of course Bentiu is under the control of the rebel leader Riek Machar, so we have nothing to do with that area."
The United States and Ethiopia are leading efforts to open peace talks on the 10-day-old crisis. Officials say President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar have agreed to meet but specifics including the status of Machar`s imprisoned compatriots are holding up talks.
South Sudanese troops are advancing on Bor in order to take it back from troops loyal to Machar, said military spokesman Col Philip Aguer. Troops will also soon advance on another rebel-held city, Bentiu, in the oil-rich region of Unity state, he said.
"We have already started in Bor," Lueth said.
The UN has staff in the country investigating the incidents of mass killings, said Pillay. It is unclear who is responsible for the killings, she said. The other two reported mass graves are in Jebel-Kujur and Newside, near Eden, she said.
The country`s top UN humanitarian official said yesterday that he believes the death toll from 10 days of violence has surpassed 1,000 but that there are no firm counts. The official, Toby Lanzer, estimated that there are more than 100,000 internal refugees across the country seeking shelter from the violence.