March 11, 2014 (JUBA) – The Ghanaian Force Commander of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has firmly denied that a weapons shipment seized in Lakes state last week had been intended to supply rebel troops opposed to the central government.
- The discovery of a weapons cargo after 11 UNMISS trucks were intercepted by authorities in Lakes state sparked protests in the capital, Juba, on 10 March 2014 (AFP)
In a press statement on Tuesday, Major General Delali Johnson Sakyi, maintained the weapons and ammunition seized in Lakes state capital, Rumbek en route to Unity state, after authorities intercepted 11 UN trucks belonged to the newly arrived Ghanaian peacekeeping contingent.
“Let me be clear, the weapons and ammunition found in Rumbek were never intended to serve any other purpose than that of peace and protection of South Sudanese civilians,” he said.
“They were not intended for the use of any other entity than the new Ghanaian contingent, and they were not being transported clandestinely. This is also why we readily agreed to the inspection of the cargo at the checkpoint in Rumbek,” he added.
Sakyi, who is the most senior Ghanaian officer in the UN mission, also clarified reports that landmines were being transported in the convoy.
He said images circulated in the press and on social media in fact showed canisters for masks or respirators.
The agency has been the subject of rumours and suspicion following the damaging incident, with critics calling for boss Hilde Johnson to resign, amid allegations the items were being transported secretly to aid rebels fighting in Unity state.
On Monday, some 1,000 demonstrators carrying placards denouncing Johnson took to the streets of the capital, Juba.
Under UNMISS policy, arms and ammunition for peacekeeping contingents are flown into respective areas of deployment, rather than transported by road.
In an earlier statement, the agency said the error had occurred after several containers with weapons were inadvertently labelled as ‘general goods’, describing the mistake as “regrettable”.
Sakyi said he had travelled to Rumbek on Tuesday as part of a joint investigation into the matter involving the South Sudan government, with a high-level delegation from UN headquarters in New York also flying into Juba.
Relations between the government and UNMISS have been increasingly strained in recent months, with president Salva Kiir earlier accusing the agency of over-stepping its mandate.
Sakyi expressed optimism that the investigation would resolve the matter and ensure measures are put in place to prevent any repeat errors occurring.
“As the Force Commander of UNMISS, I hope this process will allow the mission to proceed with its mandated tasks in coordination with the Government of South Sudan in good faith,” he said.
The Ghanaian contingent was deployed to South Sudan as part of additional troops authorised by the UN Security Council (UNSC).
Sakyi says the main role of troops will be to provide assistance to civilians who have fled the recent violence, as well as to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
An estimated 10,000 people have died and almost one million displaced after political tensions erupted in violence erupted in Juba in mid-December, before spreading to other regions.
The conflict has pitted government troops loyal to Kiir against rebel forces aligned with former vice-president Riek Machar, who was removed from his position in July last year.