South Sudan's President Salva Kiir is welcomed by supporters on his return from peace talks in Kampala, at the Juba Airport, South Sudan July 9, 2018. Picture taken July 9, 2018. Image Credit: REUTERS

Geneva: At least 232 civilians were killed and 120 women and girls raped this spring in attacks by South Sudan government troops and aligned forces in opposition-held villages, the UN human rights office said on Tuesday.

A United Nations investigation identified three commanders suspected of bearing the “greatest responsibility” in the violence in Unity state between April 16 and May 24 that may amount to war crimes, it said in a report.

Elderly and disabled civilians were burnt alive in the attacks on 40 villages, which appeared aimed at driving out opposition forces, it said.

“The perpetrators ... must not be allowed to get away with it,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussain in a statement.

Reiterating his call on the government and African Union to establish a hybrid court for South Sudan, he said the soldiers had slit elderly villagers’ throats, hanged women for resisting looting and shot fleeing civilians.

The UN report said opposition forces had also carried out armed attacks that caused civilian casualties.

The UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said on May 17 it was sending 150 peacekeepers to protect civilians being targeted in clashes between the government and rebel troops in Unity state, which hosts abandoned oilfields.

There was no immediate reaction to the report from the Juba government.

On Monday, South Sudan rebels rejected a peace plan to reinstate insurgent leader Riek Machar as vice-president, under a deal reached at talks in Uganda a day before.