The UN Security Council has said an attack on one of its bases in South Sudan may "constitute a war crime." It called on the country's government to do more to prevent future attacks.
A statement from the United Nations Security Council on Friday was adopted unanimously: "The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms these acts and underscored that attacks on civilians and UN peacekeepers may constitute a war crime."
At least 58 people were killed and more than a hundred were injured on Thursday when a group of around 350 armed youths in civilian clothes broke through the perimeter of the UN base in the town of Bor in Jonglei state. They opened fire on civilians sheltering at the base. Among the dead were children and the UN has warned that the death toll could rise.
The statement added: "The members of the Security Council called on the government of South Sudan to immediately take steps to ensure the safety of all civilians and UNMISS Protection of Civilian sites in South Sudan, to swiftly investigate these incidents, and to bring the perpetrators of these egregious acts to justice."
The UN's top official in South Sudan,Toby Lanzer, praised peacekeepers for preventing what could have been a massacre of many more of the 5,000 people currently sheltering at the Bor base. "When we realised we were under attack we responded... the quick actions of the peacekeepers saved lives," Lanzer said. The peacekeepers are from India, Nepal and South Korea.
Lanzer said measures had been taken to increase security at the other UN bases in South Sudan which are currently sheltering up to 60,000 people from different ethnic groups.
"Cycle of revenge"
Most of the civilians hiding in the UN base in Bor are thought to be ethnic Nuer, the tribe of former vice president Riek Machar, who now leads a rebel force comprised of Nuer militia and army defectors. During the week his forces captured the town of Bentiu, a key oil hub in the north.
President Salva Kiir is an ethnic Dinka. His forces control the capital and a large part of the army remain loyal to him. He is also backed by troops from neighbouring Uganda.
The current round of violence began on December 15 following a clash between army units loyal to the president and troops backing Riek Machar. The UN's Lanzer said South Sudan's conflict had now descended into "a cycle of revenge."
"This past week has been the most bleak in South Sudan's history," Lanzer said.
The UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it was "particularly outraged by deliberate and targeted killings of civilians in hospitals, churches, UN peacekeeping bases and other places where people's rights should be sacrosanct".