WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Tuesday called the massacre of hundreds of civilians in South Sudan an abomination and called for an end to the cycle of violence there.
The United Nations said on Monday that rebels slaughtered hundreds of civilians when they seized the South Sudan oil hub of Bentiu, hunting down men, women and children who had sought refuge in a hospital, mosque and Catholic church.
Rebel troops overran Bentiu, the capital of the oil producing Unity State, on Tuesday.
Rebel spokesman Lul Ruai Koang denied responsibility for the slaughter, blaming government forces for the killings
More than 1 million people have fled their homes since December when fighting erupted in the world's youngest country between troops backing President Salva Kiir and soldiers loyal to his sacked vice president, Riek Machar.
"We are horrified by reports out of South Sudan that fighters aligned with rebel leader Riek Machar massacred hundreds of innocent civilians last week in Bentiu," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.
The White House statement sought to capture some of the graphic nature of the violence.
"Images and accounts of the attacks shock the conscience: stacks of bodies found dead inside a mosque, patients murdered at a hospital, and dozens more shot and killed in the streets and at a church -- apparently due to their ethnicity and nationality -- while hate speech was broadcast on local radio," Carney said.
Bulldozers have buried the dead in mass graves, and the number of people seeking protection at the U.N. camp in Bentiu has grown from 8,000 to more than 22,000 in two weeks, the spokesman said.
He said U.S. officials were equally appalled by an armed attack last week at the U.N. mission in Bor, South Sudan, that killed at least 48 civilians and injured dozens more.
"These acts of violence are an abomination. They are a betrayal of the trust the South Sudanese people have put in their leaders," he said.
Carney said both Kiir and Machar must make clear that attacks on civilians are unacceptable, that those responsible for violence on both sides must be brought to justice "and the cycle of violence that has plagued South Sudan for too long must come to an end."
(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Michael Perry)