South Sudanese soldiers mark the thirty fourth anniversary of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) at the military headquarters in Juba, South Sudan. May 18, 2017.
South Sudanese soldiers mark the thirty fourth anniversary of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) at the military headquarters in Juba, South Sudan. May 18, 2017.

Thirteen South Sudanese soldiers accused of raping five foreign aid workers and killing a local journalist appeared before a military court on Tuesday.

The attack, one of the worst on aid workers in South Sudan's civil war, took place on July 11, 2016 as President Salva Kiir's troops won a three-day battle in Juba over opposition forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar.

The crime cast a spotlight on atrocities committed by government troops and led to a damning report on the failure of United Nations peacekeepers to protect civilians.

Trial begins

"What is concerns the court is to address the case in a proper way," Chief Prosecutor Abukuk Mohammed Ramadan said in opening remarks.

Describing the incident, Terrain Hotel Manager Mike Woodward told the court that "between 50 to 100" soldiers arrived at the hotel in the afternoon of July 11, 2016 and began looting an hour later.

"Five women working with humanitarian organisations were then raped. John Gatluak was shot at 6:15 pm," Woodward said.

However, Peter Malual, the defendants' lawyer, dismissed the charges. He said evidence provided by Woodward was not sufficient to prove the allegations.

"What I know is that the area was under operation at the time and rebels were controlling the area," Malual said.

Court officials said the trial would resume on June 6.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies