Rebels loyal to former South Sudan vice president Riek Machar have accused government forces of killing nearly 20 civilians in separate attacks in Unity state in the past three weeks.
Lul Ruai Koang, a military spokesman for the rebels, said 10 civilians were killed as they fled fighting in Rubkona County, four were killed in a separate attack in the same county, and four more were killed in Mayom County between Dec. 5 and 26.
Koang said that, in many cases, civilians were trapped by government forces and denied an escape route as government and opposition forces clashed in Unity state, one of the regions hardest hit by the unrest that broke out in Juba in December 2013 and quickly spread to other parts of the country.
He accused government troops of targeting civilians because of their "perceived alliances."
"For example, the killing of the cousins of Brigadier General Makal Kuol, who is operations commander of our forces, was motivated by the fact that he is on our side and the government is not happy with that move and they wanted to punish his relations for being in the opposition," he said.
Koang said other civilians have also been killed for their links to rebels loyal to Machar. He blamed government forces and their allies for the killings.
But army spokesman Philip Aguer dismissed the allegations as "rubbish and a complete lie." He said the rebels were trying to divert attention away from atrocities that they, themselves, have committed.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) earlier this month accused rebel forces of committing serious human rights abuses when they overran the Unity state capital, Bentiu, and attacked nearby villages in late October.
Aguer cited other incidents in which the opposition allegedly targeted civilians based on their ties to the other side in the year-old conflict.
He said that, while the opposition held meetings in Pagak to discuss details of the slow-moving peace process, members of its forces "... tortured two wives of two majors in the SPLA. One passed away and one is being treated in Addis Ababa."
"... I think they wanted to make a case that, if they have killed people in Pagak, the government is also doing it," he said.
Aguer said the army will investigate the allegations that its soldiers have been targeting and killing civilians.
Koang said the opposition is also calling for an investigation by international human rights groups and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the regional body mediating peace talks in Ethiopia between South Sudan’s warring sides.