|JUBA, Dec. 3, 2018 -- The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) on Sunday condemned a series of brutal sexual attacks on women and girls traveling from their villages to the town of Bentiu in the Unity region.
David Shearer, special representative of the secretary-general and head of UNMISS, said about 125 women and girls have sought medical treatment after having been raped or sexually assaulted in a 10-day period as they walked along roads near Nhialdu and Guit on their way to Bentiu.
"The violent assaults happened in a government-controlled area and it has primary responsibility for the safety of civilians," Shearer said in a statement issued in Juba.
He said the UN mission has held urgent meetings with authorities and urged them to take immediate action to protect women and girls in the area and to hold the perpetrators of these terrible crimes to account.
The UN official said the attacks were reported to have been perpetrated by young men in civilian clothing or military uniforms, saying beside the sexual assaults, they were brutally beaten and robbed.
"These attacks on vulnerable civilians are absolutely abhorrent and must stop," Shearer said, noting that peacekeepers have been dispatched to patrol the area to provide a protective presence and an investigation has been launched to identify the perpetrators.
He said UN mission engineers are also clearing foliage from the sides of the road so attackers find it harder to conceal their presence.
Shearer urged armed forces in the area to guarantee command and control over their troops to ensure rogue elements within their ranks are not involved in these criminal acts.
South Sudan descended into civil war in late 2013, and the conflict has created one of the worst refugee crises in Africa, as some 4 million South Sudanese are displaced internally and externally, according to UN estimates.