Warring fighters in South Sudan have looted hospitals and murdered patients in their beds, cutting lifesaving healthcare to hundreds of thousands of people, according to a humanitarian organisation.
Warning of an "alarming pattern of lootings and attacks on patients" and health facilities, Doctors without Borders said on Wednesday that their crucial work was being strangled by a "climate of utter disrespect and fear".
|S Sudan aid workers assess hospital attack
The organisation, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres [MSF], said that medical care had "come under fire, with patients shot in their beds, wards burned to the ground, medical equipment looted, and, in one case, an entire hospital destroyed."
"Assaults on medical facilities and patients are part of a broader backdrop of brutal attacks on towns, markets and public facilities," said Raphael Gorgeu, MSF head of mission in South Sudan.
Thousands of people have been killed and almost 900,000 forced from their homes by more than two months of fighting between rebel and government forces, backed by troops from neighbouring Uganda, AFP news agency reported.
Atrocities have been committed by both sides, whether during the initial clashes that marked the start of the conflict in the capital Juba on December 15, or during repeated battles for strategic towns across the impoverished but oil-rich nation.
Recent heavy battles between rebels and government troops have been over the key northern oil hub of Malakal, which has exchanged hands several times between warring sides.
MSF discovered at least 14 dead bodies in a hospital in Malakal during last weekend, Associated Press news agency reported. It said several of the victims had been shot while lying in their beds.
"Malakal is deserted, with houses burned throughout and countless dead bodies strewn in the streets...I can find no words to describe the brutality," said Carlos Francisco, MSF's emergency coordinator in the town.
In the flashpoint region of Leer, hometown of rebel chief Riek Machar, MSF's hospital was razed to the ground.
"The destruction from fire was unbelievable... the fridges where we used to keep the vaccines cold were just melted white blobs," Maynard said, after returning to Leer to assess the damage.
"Now nearly 300,000 people have no access to a hospital, nor any general healthcare....there's nothing left in the hospital that is useable."