Juba - Forced displacement of civilians is emerging as a strategy South Sudanese forces are putting to use to weaken rebels in the country's civil conflict, the UN said on Thursday.
"From the middle of 2015, a new pattern emerged," especially in northern Unity state, "with entire villages being burned down, food crops destroyed and livestock looted," according to the report by the UN mission to South Sudan and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
"There are indications that this may have been a deliberate strategy by the government or [the army] aimed at depriving civilians of any source of livelihood with a view to forcing their displacement," said the report.
The goal would have been to empty the oil-rich area of its population in order to deprive the rebels of any eventual support, according to the UN.
The government denied the allegations, saying that "there is no government policy to kill, displace or destroy [the] livelihood of civilians."
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A Ugandan official meanwhile said that violence in South Sudan was driving more than 400 refugees a day to neighbouring Uganda.
"We are setting up camps and other facilities to accommodate them," government refugee commissioner David Kazungu told dpa, saying the majority of those fleeing were women coming from the south.
A total of 113 000 refugees have arrived in Uganda since a power struggle between South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, turned violent in December 2013, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.
The conflict has left tens of thousands dead and displaced 2.3 million people. About 650 000 of the displaced have crossed into neighbouring countries, UNHCR said.
A peace agreement was signed in August and the government and rebels have agreed on the formation of a transitional unity government. Fighting is nevertheless reported to have continued.