The head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) today condemned the actions of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLM/A) in Opposition for holding UN personnel hostage, and refuted allegations that the Mission was transporting weapons and fuel for the South Sudanese group.
On Monday, 18 UNMISS uniformed personnel and 12 South Sudanese UNMISS contractors had been transporting fuel by barge from Malakal to the UNMISS base in Renk when they were stopped by approximately 100 SPLA in Opposition soldiers at Kaka in Manyo County.
The Opposition soldiers then separated the UNMISS personnel and contractors from their communications equipment, disarmed the uniformed personnel and seized the barge and its cargo of fuel, according to a statement issued by the Mission.
Following dialogue with the Opposition leadership, UNMISS was able to extract the 18 uniformed personnel yesterday. However, contrary to claims made in the media, the Opposition failed to release the 12 South Sudanese contractors, the weapons of the uniformed personnel, the barge and its cargo.
“I call on the SPLM/A in Opposition leader and commanders to release the contractors and all UNMISS property without delay,” Ellen Margrethe Løj, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNMISS, said in the statement.
“I am adamant that the taking of UNMISS personnel as hostages is equivalent to an attack on the UN. I underline that such attacks against UN peacekeepers and other personnel may constitute a war crime.”
Ms. Løj also strongly refuted reports in the media that the barge had been transporting weapons cargo of any kind, and emphasized that all of the fuel cargo was intended for resupplying the UNMISS base in Renk, and not for the use of the Opposition.