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Forced cannibalism, mass graves reported in South Sudan

  • FILE - In this Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013 file photo, a man walks in a ward of mainly soldiers with gunshot wounds inside the Juba Military Hospital in Juba, South Sudan. A report by African Union investigators, released lated Tuesday, Oct. 27th, 2015 says mass graves have been discovered in South Sudan and cites horrific crimes against civilians, including forced cannibalism. The report also disputes that there was a coup attempt in December 2013 by former Vice President Riek Machar. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

    FILE - In this Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013 file photo, a man walks in a ward of mainly soldiers with gunshot wounds inside the Juba Military Hospital in Juba, South Sudan. A report by African Union investigators, released lated Tuesday, Oct. 27th, 2015 says mass graves have been discovered in South Sudan and cites horrific crimes against civilians, including forced cannibalism. The report also disputes that there was a coup attempt in December 2013 by former Vice President Riek Machar. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014 file photo, a small cross made of sticks and a religious blanket lie on top of the grave of a small child who was wounded during recent fighting between government and rebel forces in Bor but who died after fleeing by river barge across the Nile river to the town of Awerial, South Sudan. A report by African Union investigators, released lated Tuesday, Oct. 27th, 2015 says mass graves have been discovered in South Sudan and cites horrific crimes against civilians, including forced cannibalism. The report also disputes that there was a coup attempt in December 2013 by former Vice President Riek Machar. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

    FILE - In this Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014 file photo, a small cross made of sticks and a religious blanket lie on top of the grave of a small child who was wounded during recent fighting between government and rebel forces in Bor but who died after fleeing by river barge across the Nile river to the town of Awerial, South Sudan. A report by African Union investigators, released lated Tuesday, Oct. 27th, 2015 says mass graves have been discovered in South Sudan and cites horrific crimes against civilians, including forced cannibalism. The report also disputes that there was a coup attempt in December 2013 by former Vice President Riek Machar. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014 file photo, people displaced by the recent fighting between government and rebel forces in Bor queue for medical care at a clinic run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) set up in a school building in the town of Awerial, South Sudan. A report by African Union investigators, released lated Tuesday, Oct. 27th, 2015 says mass graves have been discovered in South Sudan and cites horrific crimes against civilians, including forced cannibalism. The report also disputes that there was a coup attempt in December 2013 by former Vice President Riek Machar. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

    FILE - In this Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014 file photo, people displaced by the recent fighting between government and rebel forces in Bor queue for medical care at a clinic run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) set up in a school building in the town of Awerial, South Sudan. A report by African Union investigators, released lated Tuesday, Oct. 27th, 2015 says mass graves have been discovered in South Sudan and cites horrific crimes against civilians, including forced cannibalism. The report also disputes that there was a coup attempt in December 2013 by former Vice President Riek Machar. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)  (The Associated Press)

African Union investigators discovered mass graves in South Sudan and found evidence of horrific crimes, including forced cannibalism, according to a long-awaited report.  President Salva Kiir's faction in the conflict is also accused of recruiting an irregular tribal force before the outbreak of war in December 2013.

The report, released late Tuesday, also disputes that there was a coup attempt in December 2013 by former Vice President Riek Machar. Government troops carried out organized killings of members of the ethnic Nuer in Juba, the capital, the report said. When violence broke out, Machar, a Nuer, became a rebel leader. He and Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, recently signed a peace agreement.

The African Union investigators, led by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, found that the conflict began on Dec. 15, 2013, as a skirmish broke out between Dinka and Nuer soldiers of the presidential guard following political tension between Kiir and Machar, who had been fired as Kiir's deputy the previous July.

The report was scheduled for release months ago but its release was delayed by the African Union's Peace and Security Council.

Hundreds of Nuer men were rounded up and shot, and mass graves were discovered. Perpetrators -- described as government forces or their allies -- allegedly tortured their victims, including by forcing them to jump in fires or eat human flesh, according to the report.

The killings were "an organized military operation that could not have been successful without concerted efforts from various actors in the military and government circles," the report said. "Roadblocks or checkpoints were established all around Juba and house to house searches were undertaken by security forces. During this operation male Nuers were targeted, identified, killed on the spot or gathered in one place and killed."

The report said Minister of Defense Kuol Manyang Juuk described a shadowy "group (that had) organized itself as Rescue the President. It killed most people here (in Juba) -- from 15th to 18th. It was even more powerful than organized forces."

The group comprised some Dinka soldiers who had been mobilized following a 2012 border crisis with northern neighbor Sudan. Some of these soldiers were moved south to Kiir's private farm near Juba in 2013 and later participated in the killings, the report said, citing interviews with informants.

Amid the Juba killings, Machar fled the capital and mobilized an insurgency which committed revenge attacks against the Dinka, sparking a cycle of violence in Bor, Malakal, and Bentiu towns which also included rape and murder of people in churches and hospitals, according to the report. Those revenge attacks occurred so quickly they were also likely coordinated, it added.

Kiir and Machar signed a peace agreement in August but fighting continues.