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Head of South Sudan's military courts resigns, rebukes government

Reuters , Saturday 18 Feb 2017
Salva Kiir, Riek Machar
File photo- South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar (Reuters)

The head of South Sudan's military courts has resigned, saying high-level interference made it impossible to discipline soldiers accused of rape and murder amid the nation's civil war, according to a letter seen by Reuters on Saturday.

The resignation of Col. Khalid Ono Loki is the third high-level departure in a week. A highly respected general stood down seven days ago, citing ethnic favouritism in the military and rampant human rights abuses. On Friday, the minister of labour defected to the rebels.

Oil-rich South Sudan has been mired in civil war since 2013, when President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, fired his deputy Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer.

Since then, fighting has increasingly fractured the world's youngest country along ethnic lines, leading the U.N. to warn that the violence was setting the stage for genocide.

In a letter addressed to the chief of army staff, Loki said soldiers were committing crimes without fear of punishment, particularly officers who were Dinka, the same tribe as the president and chief of army staff.

"In your relentless endeavours to protect your own ethnicity, and founded on no single law, you always freeze and/or abolish court issuance and rulings even of murder, rape and theft cases," he wrote.

"You have ordered arrests of civilians in military jails exterior of proper legal channels ... I can no longer continue with such a corrupt, ethicised and unethical institution."

Loki's resignation buttresses allegations by international rights groups that the government permits soldiers to gang-rape and murder civilians with impunity. The U.N. has documented hundreds of accusations of rape involving soldiers in the capital alone.

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