March 12, 2014 (JUBA) - The Norwegian government on Wednesday expressed strong disappointment with the Government of South Sudan over it “unreasonable and groundless accusations” that the United Nations mission in the country was aiding a rebellion that began almost three months ago.
- An image circulated on social media reportedly showing weapons seized by Lakes state secutiry officials from UN trucks in Rumbek, on 5 March 2014
Norway is the first foreign country to comment on the row, which has seen protests mobilised in the capital and other states against the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), which has over 8,000 peacekeepers in the young nation.
After the eruption of violence in mid-December, the UN Security Council (UNSC) approved a temporary increase to 12,500 military and 1,323 police personnel and UNMISS bases are sheltering 77,000.
Relations between the government and UNMISS have been increasingly strained in recent months after president Salva Kiir accused the latter of over-stepping its mandate and acting like a “parallel government”.
But the dispute escalated last week when 11 UNMISS trucks were intercepted by South Sudanese security authorities in Lakes state carrying a weapons cargo, triggering protests in the capital, Juba.
The Ghanaian Force Commander has firmly denied claims the weapons shipment had been intended to supply rebel troops opposed to the central government.
The UN has maintained the weapons and ammunition belong to the newly arrived Ghanaian peacekeeping contingent, and had been inadvertently transported by road rather than by air after a labelling error. But this has not stopped mounting criticism of the mission by South Sudanese on social media, with Hilde Johnson, the mission’s Norwegian head, often being singled out.
Norway’s foreign minister, Børge Brende, released a statement on Wednesday, describing the “unacceptable” accusations as “unreasonable and groundless”.
“The UN represents the entire international community in its efforts to support South Sudan on the path towards peace, reconciliation and economic and social development,” the minister said.
“Both before and since South Sudan became independent in 2011, the UN has been the most important international partner for the people of the country. The recent accusations against the UN are therefore unacceptable, and are undermining the relationship of trust between the authorities and the international community. Norway has full confidence in UNMISS and the head of mission, Hilde Frafjord Johnson,” Brende said in the statement.
The UN has refuted claims that it has smuggled weapons to the insurgents but has expressed regret that the UN guidelines for the transportation of weapons were not correctly followed.
“It is now important to restore a relationship of trust between the UN and the authorities in South Sudan. I expect the Government of South Sudan and president Salva Kiir to cooperate fully with the UN in resolving the humanitarian, security and political challenges the country is facing,” said Brende.
UN PROBE TEAM ARRIVES
Meanwhile, the UN announced on Wednesday that its high-level delegation from New York had arrived in the country to conduct an investigation regarding last week’s incident involving the transportation of weapons and ammunition by road to Bentiu.
This equipment, it reiterated in a statement, belonged to its Ghanaian contingent of peacekeepers and been "mistakenly" been put on a road convoy.
"The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is looking forward to being able to conduct this investigation in full transparency and collaboration with the authorities of South Sudan, and allow the Mission to clarify the circumstances of this unfortunate incident, ensure that it will not happen again, and defuse any misunderstanding between the United Nations and the Government of South Sudan," partly reads the statement extended to Sudan Tribune.
The world body also reiterated its commitment to South Sudan and its people, stressing that its mission had not and would never take sides in the country’s conflict.
"Impartiality is a core principle of the United Nations which is guiding all the operations of the mission," it said.