A Geneva-based research group accused the UN mission in South Sudan of supplying weapons to rebels loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar just weeks after civil war began in the world’s youngest nation.
The assortment of arms were used to carry out one of the war’s worst atrocities, according to the Small Arms Survey report late Thursday.
It said UN officials in Bentiu in December 2013 handed dozens of weapons, as well as ammunition, to rebel general James Koang. Four months later, Koang’s troops killed hundreds of civilians who were sheltered in a mosque and hospital in the northern Unity state, according to the United Nations and human rights groups.
Relations between the government and the UN mission have been increasingly strained during the three-year war and President Salva Kiir has accused the agency of over-stepping its mandate.
At the start of the conflict, the government accused the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) of sheltering rebels inside its bases. Tens of thousands of residents have been given protection at UN compounds and bases since the fighting began.
Government officials have questioned the neutrality of the UNMISS that they say is an interested party in the now seemingly intractable conflict.
“There is a lot of dishonesty in the UNMISS and we have been skeptical on their stand in the conflict, so it is not a surprise for such for report,” Deputy Information Minister Akol Paul Akordit told Anadolu Agency.
“Who doesn’t know opposition forces loyal to Machar fled Juba in 2013 and in July where many of them hid in UN compounds throughout the war. They were given full protection under the excuse that they were displaced people,” Akol said.
Throughout the war, the UN mission has found itself caught in the crossfire, accused by each side of supporting the other, with UN bases at times coming under attack. UN investigations, aid groups and research groups have accused the UN mission of failing to adequately protect civilians, including those on and near its bases.
UMISS acting spokeswoman Shantal Persuad, however, denied the mission has taken sides.
“UNMISS have taken a neutral stand since the beginning of the conflict, which is to be impartial, by not taking sides in the war, impartial with the way we are approaching civilians, and impartial in the way we will monitor human rights abuses against the civilian population,” she told Anadolu Agency.
South Sudan’s war entered its fourth year earlier this week with tens of thousands of victims killed and 2.4 million residents displaced in the conflict that has played out along ethnic lines.
A top U.N. human rights official warned last month that the country is on the verge of an “all-out ethnic civil war” that could result in genocide.
South Sudan President: UN Acting Like Parallel Government