Violence that killed at least 114 people in and around the town of Yei, in South Sudan's Central Equatoria region, may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, the UN has said in its latest report. The investigation, conducted by the Human Rights Division of the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), focused on the time between July 2016 and January 2017.
It claims pro-government forces killed at least 114 people.
"These violations and abuses may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity and that they warrant further investigation," it said.
"The report exposes cases of indiscriminate shelling of civilians; targeted killings; looting and burning of civilian property and cases of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls, including those fleeing fighting."
Investigators said the extent of abuses by rebel groups remains unclear, due to inability to access areas where rebels are active.
The South Sudan conflict erupted in 2013 when President Salva Kiir, of the Dinka ethnic group, fired his deputy Riek Machar – from the Nuer group – who then became a rebel leader.
Kiir and Machar have agreed on several peace deals – the last of which was signed in August 2015 – but have failed to control their troops, who have broken every ceasefire since 2014.
Machar fled South Sudan following deadly fighting in the capital Juba in July 2016. Violence continued along ethnic lines targeting civilians in areas of the country including Yei, which, until then, had remained largely peaceful.
Earlier this year, the South Sudanese government – which has been hit by a string of high-level resignations – agreed to declare a unilateral ceasefire to promote peace in the war-torn country.
However, violence has continued since, amid fears ethnic cleaning might be underway in some areas of the country.
Ethnic-related violence has killed an estimated 50,000 people, amid allegations of crimes against humanity committed by both sides, including rape, torture and the use of child soldiers. The UN has several times warned the country is on the verge of a Rwanda-style genocide.
People continue to flee to neighbouring countries to escape violence, famine and a drought. The mass exodus has been deemed "Africa's worst refugee crisis". More than 2m people are internally displaced.
Earlier this week, the UN also confirmed that dozens of peacekeepers part of a 4,000-strong UN contingent had arrived to South Sudan, eight months after the UN Security Council had approved the deployment.
"Meanwhile the situation in the country has deteriorated at a rapid pace," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was quoted by Reuters as saying on Thursday (18 May).
South Sudan had initially opposed to the deployment of the troops, but later changed its position.
The additional troops will join an existing 12,500-strong peacekeeping contingent tasked with protecting civilians in South Sudan, where a civil war erupted in 2013.
At least 7,000 of the peacekeepers were originally deployed in 2011 to help "consolidate peace" in the country after it gained independence from Sudan earlier that year.