JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan's security forces are shooting, torturing and raping civilians in the country's east, rights group Amnesty International said on Wednesday, urging the government and United Nations to do more to stop the abuses.
The army (SPLA) did not respond to numerous phone calls but has previously played down accusations its soldiers have attacked civilians during a disarmament campaign in Jonglei state, saying there have only been isolated violations.
Soldiers and police have been fanning out across Jonglei - home to a huge, largely unexplored oil field - to try and collect thousands of weapons left over from decades of civil war that are now fuelling tribal clashes and a growing rebellion.
The impoverished country, which declared independence from Sudan in July 2011 under a peace agreement, is still struggling to contain ethnic and political tensions across its vast territory.
Amnesty said it had evidence civilians, including children as young as 18 months, had been tortured and abused during the disarmament campaign.
Security forces had looted property and destroyed crops, the group said, adding it had received "credible reports of rape and attempted rape by SPLA forces".
"Far from bringing security to the region, the SPLA and the police auxiliary forces have committed shocking human rights violations and the authorities are doing very little to stop the abuse," Amnesty International's Africa Director, Audrey Gaughran, said in the statement.
The group said the United Nations mission in the country should do more to protect civilians and "(deploy) peacekeepers in areas where there is significant potential for violations by the SPLA".
Insurgents led by former theology student David Yau Yau have clashed with the army in Jonglei in recent weeks, forcing aid agencies to evacuate international staff from the area.
Yau Yau has been fighting the government since 2010, accusing it of corruption. An announcement on a short-wave radio station linked to his group recently said he was also fighting to defend civilians against army abuses carried out during the disarmament push.
On Sunday, the SPLA repelled a attack by Yau Yau's forces on the town of Likuangole, killing 31 rebels, Pibor county commissioner Joshua Konyi told Reuters by telephone.
There was no immediate comment from Yau Yau's forces.
Insecurity in Jonglei has already forced medical aid charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to suspend work in the towns of Likuangole and Gumuruk over the last six weeks.
(Reporting by Hereward Holland; Editing by Andrew Heavens)