UN peacekeepers accused of failing to stop South Sudan rapes

This image provided by the UNMISS (United Nation Mission in South Sudan) on July 11, 2016 shows some of the at least 3000 displaced women, men and children taking shelter at the UN compound in Tomping area in Juba (AFP Photo/Beatrice Mategwa)

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - The United Nations has documented at least 120 cases of rape since a recent flareup of violence in South Sudan and is investigating allegations that its peacekeepers did nothing to stop the violence, a spokesman said Wednesday.

"We take very seriously the allegations that peacekeepers did not render aid to civilians in distress," said UN spokesman Farhan Haq.

"Of course that is exactly what they are supposed to do and there would be serious repercussions if they failed in their duty," he added.

Media reports quoted witnesses who said peacekeepers looked on and did nothing during at least one assault on a woman.

The Associated Press interviewed a witness who said at least 30 peacekeepers from Chinese and Nepalese battalions watched as a woman screamed for help during an assault by two soldiers near the base's gate.

Haq said the command of the UN force in South Sudan, known as UNMISS, was looking into the allegations that peacekeepers failed to protect civilians.

South Sudanese soldiers in uniform and men in plain clothes were allegedly involved in the sexual violence, including gang rapes, against civilians near a UN base in Juba and other areas of the capital, said Haq.

Some of the victims were minors, he added.

Juba was rocked by several days of heavy fighting starting on July 9 between government forces and those loyal to rebel chief Riek Machar, the latest upsurge in the two and half year war.

Nearly 300 people died in the violence and thousands rushed to UN peacekeeping bases for safety.

In response to the increase in rapes, UN peacekeepers have stepped up patrols around the base and in the city.

They are also accompanying women who venture out of the base to collect firewood and procure other items, said Haq.

UNMISS has 13,500 troops and police deployed across South Sudan under a mandate that calls for the protection of civilians.