South Sudan says 17 accused in attack targeting Americans

Eight people have been accused of rape, eight others accused of looting and one accused of injuring a victim during a July rampage that targeted Americans at a South Sudan hotel popular with foreigners, the government announced Wednesday. Most of the accused are from the military, it said.

It was the first word of accountability in the attack on the Terrain hotel compound. The Associated Press was the first to reveal details of the attack in which people were gang-raped, beaten, subjected to mock executions and forced to watch a local journalist be shot dead. Victims said dozens of armed men in uniform forced their way into the compound, breaking open the gate with gunshots and tire irons and outmanning security guards.

The report of South Sudan's investigation into the attack, obtained by the AP, dismisses accounts that soldiers made anti-American remarks during the rampage, saying that "utterances made by these criminals were probably calculated to make their victims believe that they were being mistreated at the orders of the government."

The South Sudan report, which has not been publicly released, also says the only way to stop a growing trend of indiscipline within the country's military "is for the international community and friends of South Sudan, including the U.S. administration, to stop the current war and support the new nation in the transformation of the (army)."

The report also blames the management of the Terrain hotel for "failing to take appropriate steps in order to ensure the security and safety" of people there.

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Spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday the U.S. State Department has seen the executive summary of the report and looked forward to a more detailed briefing from the U.N. to the Security Council on Thursday. He said the South Sudanese government bears primary responsibility for the protection of its population and other civilians from "genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and other physical violence."

Kirby encouraged the government to continue its query and "hold all perpetrators accountable through a fair and credible process."

South Sudan's announcement came a day after the United Nations made public its own investigation that found U.N. peacekeepers nearby did not respond to calls for help during the Terrain attack, which occurred shortly after fighting erupted in the capital, Juba, between rival groups in the security forces.

The separate South Sudan investigation came after pressure from the United States.

South Sudan's deputy justice minister, Martison Oturomoi, told reporters that soldiers "exploited the war to do their own criminal acts" and cited soldiers raping women and killing the journalist, John Gatluak, based on his ethnicity.

Four of the six members of the investigative committee are from South Sudan's military or security forces, raising concerns about impartiality.

Oturomoi emphasized that the report by itself would not be enough to convict anyone. For example, he said one woman was raped by 15 men during the attack but that it was "difficult for any person other than the victim to identify the offender."

The investigation recommended that the accusations be handled by a special court with military judges. Experts say South Sudanese law indicates that soldiers who commit crimes against civilians must be tried in a civilian court.