About 75 bodies have been discovered in a mass grave in rebel-held Bentiu in South Sudan, the UN says, as the leader of a rival faction indicated he was ready for peace talks with President Salva Kiir.
“We have discovered a mass grave in Bentiu, in Unity State, and there are reportedly at least two other mass graves in Juba,” UN rights chief Navi Pillay said in a statement on Tuesday.
Pillay expressed “grave concern” over the ethnically-tinged killings that have raged across South Sudan for more than a week as troops loyal to President Salva Kiir battle those backing his rival Riek Machar, a former vice president who was sacked in July.
South Sudan’s sacked vice president, Riek Machar, said on Tuesday he was ready for peace talks with President Kiir to bring an end to the deadly clashes across the country.
“Yes, we are ready for talks. I have formed my delegation,” he told Radio France Internationale (RFI), adding that the negotiations would likely be held in Ethiopia.
“I also spoke this morning to (US) Secretary of State John Kerry and I spoke to the foreign minister of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia, explained to him my readiness for talks,” Machar said.
He said he would not take part in the talks but had formed a “very high-level delegation … with powers to reach agreement.
“We want a democratic nation. We want democratic free and fair elections. We want Salva Kiir to call it a day,” he said.
Machar said the talks should be held on “neutral ground”. Asked specifically if he was considering Ethiopia, he said: “That’s the idea. Ethiopia, yes.”
The official toll from the clashes has stood at 500 dead for days, although numbers are feared to be far higher, aid workers say. Witnesses that AFP has spoken to recount a wave of atrocities, including an orchestrated campaign of mass killings and rape.
The unrest has also taken on an ethnic dimension, pitting Kiir’s Dinka tribe against the Nuer tribe, to which Machar belongs.
With fighting ongoing, badly overstretched UN bases in the capital Juba and across the country have been flooded with at least 45,000 civilians, some of whom have recounted an orchestrated campaign of brutal killings and rape by government forces.
“Mass extrajudicial killings, the targeting of individuals on the basis of their ethnicity and arbitrary detentions have been documented in recent days,” Pillay said.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon has asked the Security Council to nearly double the size of the UN mission in the country.
Two UN peacekeepers from India were killed last week when gunman stormed a UN compound in the restive Jonglei state where civilians were sheltering.