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South Sudan's new first vice president said Wednesday that two soldiers had been executed in connection with brutal violence against civilians during fierce fighting last month, which allegedly included the killing of a journalist and a gang rape.
The nonprofit activist group Human Rights Watch reported this week that government soldiers killed and raped civilians and extensively looted civilian property in the capital, Juba, during and after the battle.
"Human Rights Watch researchers visiting Juba in July after the clashes documented multiple crimes, most committed by government soldiers from the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA)," it said.
"During their rampage, the soldiers executed a Nuer journalist, raped and gang raped several women, beat and assaulted dozens of staff, and ransacked and looted the entire compound," the organization said.
The Associated Press reported that the rampage took place July 11 at the Terrain Hotel complex, which is popular with foreigners.
A U.N. spokesman said Wednesday that the results of an initial fact-finding investigation by the U.N.'s mission in Juba would be submitted this week but wouldn't be made public. The South Sudanese government has already rejected a report on the incident by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
But First Vice President Taban Deng Gai said at a televised news conference that the allegations were "serious issues, and a number of soldiers have already been punished and capital punishment applied."
Deng said two soldiers had been executed. He didn't say how many other soldiers were involved, but government officials told Reuters that 19 had been "detained" for investigation of allegations of murder and looting.
Deng, who was appointed last month to replace rebel leader Riek Machar as first vice president, made his remarks in Nairobi, Kenya, where he is leading the government's delegation to a multinational conference on how to implement a South Sudanese peace agreement that was reached last year.
"Come May next year, we must have a full organized army," Deng told reporters. "This is a big achievement to us, because, as I said earlier, what brought on the crisis is the existence of parallel armies in the country."
The violence in July raised serious alarms after multiple allegations emerged that U.N. forces failed to respond. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon this week ordered a separate investigation into reports that U.N. peacekeepers posted less than a mile away ignored pleas for help for several hours.
Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, demanded in a statement that the United Nations take "swift corrective action" if the allegations prove to have been true.