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The U.S. and the U.N. have expressed outrage over an attack by South Sudanese forces against Western aid workers. Now, that attack happened last month, and the victims are coming forward to tell their side of the story. The assault was ended not by the U.N. but by other South Sudanese soldiers, the same people who were terrorizing them. And this is in a country that came into being with a lot of American and international help.
NPR's Michele Kelemen reports. And a warning here - this story includes graphic descriptions of violence.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Though she doesn't want to be identified, this woman wants the world to know what happened last month at a hotel complex in Juba, South Sudan's capital. She calls it another wakeup call for the U.S. and the U.N.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: There's been so many wake up calls over the past three years. And if they're not awake now, I don't know what they're doing in South Sudan.
KELEMEN: She was less than a mile from a U.N. base in an area that had seen a lot of fighting between South Sudan's forces and rebels aligned with the country's former vice president. She and other Western aid workers thought they'd be safe in the compound, but on July 11, government forces started ransacking and looting the hotel. It took a while, she says, before the soldiers found her and about 12 other women hiding in a bathroom. When they did, one took her to another room.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: There was blood on the floor, and there were panties on the floor, so I knew what, you know, he was going to do. And I assumed the worst, especially having seen the blood.
KELEMEN: She says she went into full defensive mode, curling up on the floor and locking her legs.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He kept hitting me with an AK-47 over and over again and screaming at me to open my legs, open my legs. You know, I'm going to kill you if you don't open your legs. And this went on for quite some time.
KELEMEN: Another man walked in the room, screaming at her, too.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: That soldier took his gun and pointed it at my left temple and then shot it into the floor, like, right next to my left temple. And it was just so loud I couldn't hear, and I think I kind of lost my wits at that point.
KELEMEN: Finally one South Sudanese soldier entered to say she was rescued. She suspects he had been waiting outside the whole time. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he's concerned by allegations that the U.N. mission didn't respond appropriately, and he's launching an independent investigation.
The woman who told her story to NPR doesn't have much faith in another U.N. report. Though she says she wasn't raped in the end, rape is a weapon of war in South Sudan well documented by the U.S. and the U.N.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Rape is part of the military arsenal that the South Sudanese government employees on a daily basis. Why after two years of documenting these kinds of incidents would we be surprised that they would do it to Americans, to Westerners, to aid workers?
KELEMEN: And she says it's time for the U.S. government to rethink its approach to South Sudan and at least push harder for an international arms embargo on a country essentially midwifed by the U.S. just a few years ago. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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