Although Kiir insists the latest unrest was sparked by a coup mounted by soldiers loyal to Machar on Dec. 15, this account has been disputed by some officials of the ruling party who say violence broke out when presidential guards from Kiir’s majority Dinka tribe tried to disarm guards from the Nuer ethnic group of Machar.
The U.N. mission in South Sudan said in a statement Tuesday that it was ‘‘gravely concerned about mounting evidence of gross violations of international human rights law’’ across South Sudan since mid-December. ‘‘Extra-judicial killings of civilians and captured soldiers have occurred in various parts of the country, as evidenced by the discovery of large numbers of bodies in Juba, as well as the Upper Nile and Jonglei state capitals of Malakal and Bor, respectively,’’ the statement said.
South Sudan has been plagued by ethnic tension and a power struggle within the ruling party that escalated after Kiir sacked Machar as his deputy earlier this year. Machar has criticized Kiir as a dictator and says he will contest the 2015 presidential election.
The United Nations, South Sudan’s government and other analysts say the dispute is political at its heart, but has since taken on ethnic dimensions. The fighting has displaced up to 180,000, according to the U.N.
Associated Press reporters Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda, and Elias Meseret in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, contributed to this report.