March 10, 2014 (RUMBEK) - The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has faced heavy criticism after security agents intercepted a weapons shipment in Lakes state, with calls for boss Hilde Johnson to stand down.
- There are calls for the head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Hilde Johnson, to stand down following the seizure of a weapons shipment in Lakes state (Photo: UN/Tim McKulka)
Officials seized an assortment of firearms and military uniforms in Lakes state capital Rumbek on Thursday after intercepting 11 UN trucks en route to Unity state.
The incident sparked protests in the capital, Juba, on Tuesday, with demonstrators carrying placards denouncing Johnson.
UNMISS said the cargo was transported due to labelling error and was intended for its Ghanaian peacekeepers recently deployed as additional forces in the country following the mid-December outbreak of violence.
However, authorities allege the items were being transported secretly to aid rebels fighting in Unity state, and have now instituted an investigation into the matter.
“There were all type of weapons, ammunition and blankets. Those items were on route to Unity state and rebel-controlled areas,” a senior military official told Sudan Tribune, without providing further details.
In a press statement released after the incident, UNMISS said that the error occurred after several containers with weapons were inadvertently labelled as ‘general goods’, describing the mistake as “regrettable”.
UN spokeswoman Ariane Quentier told BBC’s Focus on Africa that a high-level UN team was expected to arrive in South Sudan on Tuesday to carry out a joint investigation with the government into the incident.
“It is the policy of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan that during the crisis in South Sudan all arms and ammunition for peacekeeping contingents are flown into respective areas of deployment and not taken by road. This is an important security measure,” UNMISS said in an earlier statement.
Lakes state MP Taban Abel Aguek said Johnson must stand down, saying the mission’s mandate had gone from supporting the host government to supporting rebel actors seeking regime change.
Aguek said the evidence was irrefutable and that Johnson must accept responsibility for the error committed under her leadership.
“We have got all the proofs. The trucks we have got here and labelled [by the] UN and whose waybill is properly signed as ‘construction materials’ were found to contain not even single bag of cement. What they contain there are war weapons, not peace keeping weapons. The excuse [the] UN now gives does not marry up with any reality on the ground,” he said.
“Hilde Johnson has tarnished the name and image of [the] UN. If Hilde Johnson does not resign, after what we have seen now in Rumbek, then even UNMISS will have no meaning,” he added.
UNMISS issued a statement on Tuesday denying claims that landmines were among the cargo, saying pictures of the weaponry seized in fact showed canisters for masks or respirators.
Meanwhile, Paul Dhel Gum, acting minister of information and telecommunication, said his Warrap state government condemned UNMISS’ involvement in the transportation of arms to rebel areas.
“[The] Warrap state government and the entire population of Warrap state condemn with strongest terms possible the barbaric act of UNMISS in the recent attempt to smuggle arms to rebel areas in Unity state,” Gum said in a statement extended to Sudan Tribune.
Gum said the latest incident was among a series of deliberate violations against the sovereignty of South Sudan.
“It has become clear now that [the] UN is responsible for the escalation of war and suffering of the people in South Sudan by taking sides. The possession of landmines, anti-aircraft and anti-tank [weaponry] shows clearly that the weapons were for rebels in Unity state,” he said, adding that the use of heavy weaponry had not been agreed by the government.
Warrap shares a border with Unity state and as such all the loads passing through its territory are subject to screening and security checks, even if they belong to humanitarian movements.
Relations between the South Sudan government and UNMISS have been increasingly fraught in recent months, with president Salva Kiir accusing the agency of seeking to take over the young country, although he later softened his stance.