South Sudan may expel official over atrocity allegations: UN

In June the South Sudanese government expelled UN aid coordinator and deputy envoy Toby Lanzer from the capital Juba, blasting him for unfairly predicting the country's collapse and for "not giving hope to the people of South Sudan" (AFP Photo/Samir Bol)

Juba (AFP) - The United Nations mission in war-torn South Sudan said Monday it was trying verify reports the government may be seeking to expel another UN official, this time over the release of a damning human rights report.

In a report released in June, UN investigators said the country's 18-month-old civil war had descended into a "new brutality and intensity."

They accused South Sudan's army of raping then torching girls alive inside their homes during recent fighting in northern Unity State.

The UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said it was now "aware of a report that the Unity State government has expressed the view that the peacekeeping mission's top official in that state, Mary Cummins, should not return to her duty station" in the state capital Bentiu.

"We are engaging with national authorities as well as senior Unity State government officials to clarify this situation," said UNMISS spokesman Joseph Contreras.

There was no official comment from South Sudan's government, although Contreras said "we have seen media reports that they -– Unity State -- are linking this position of theirs to the release of the peacekeeping mission recent human rights report on human rights abuses."

In June the South Sudanese government expelled UN aid coordinator and deputy envoy Toby Lanzer from the capital Juba, blasting him for unfairly predicting the country's collapse and for "not giving hope to the people of South Sudan".

The civil war in the new nation began when President Salva Kiir accused Riek Machar, a former vice president, of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that has split the poverty-stricken, landlocked country along ethnic and tribal lines.

Fighters on both sides are accused of atrocities, and analysts believe tens of thousands of people have died since the war began. More than 150,000 civilians are also sheltering in UN peacekeeping bases across the country, and over 2.25 million people have been forced from their homes.