February 04, 2014 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese army (SPLA) has denied allegations it looted backpacks meant for school children, despite photographic evidence showing government troops in possession of blue bags bearing the UNICEF logo.
- UNICEF has previously accused government forces in South Sudan of looting backpacks intended for school children (Photo: Carl De Souza/AFP/Getty Images)
SPLA spokesperson Colonel Philip Aguer said claims army troops participated in the looting of supplies from relief organisations and business entities were incorrect, describing media reports as “wild circulations”.
“The general command of the SPLA, therefore, would like to clarify to the general public and the humanitarian relief organisations that our forces never looted any properties or supplies”, Aguer said in a statement on Tuesday.
However, in a separate interview with Sudan Tribune later the same day, Aguer said the army would conduct its own investigations into the allegations.
“Of course, the general command will investigate these allegations to establish the facts, Aguer said, although the officer did not elaborate on when the investigations would begin or whether the findings would be made public.
Army denials followed media reports on Monday quoting UNICEF spokeswoman Sarah Crowe as saying the agency was “extremely concerned” over the looting by the government troops of school supplies and backpacks that were due to be distributed to children.
The complaint came after large numbers of heavily-armed government soldiers, who are presently struggling to contain a seven-week-old rebellion in the country, were photographed in Jonglei state with bright-blue UNICEF ’back to school’ bags on their shoulders.
“We are of course extremely concerned to see this flagrant abuse of UNICEF education materials by combatants”, Crowe said in an interview with AFP on Monday.
“A large amount of UNICEF supplies - along with humanitarian supplies from other organisations, as well as stores from schools and hospitals - have been looted in many locations during the conflict in South Sudan”, she added.
Crowe said the alleged theft of humanitarian supplies demonstrated a “complete disregard for the principle of protection of civilians and respect for humanitarian work”, calling on warring factions to “take appropriate action against the theft and use of supplies that are intended for the welfare of civilians, especially children.”
Relief organisations have repeatedly expressed concerns about widespread looting of aid supplies by both government forces and the rebels, including vehicles, food stockpiles and medicines.