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UN denies harbouring armed criminals in South Sudan

October 18, 2016 (JUBA) - United Nations mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has denied claims by government that it was hosting armed criminals within its various Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites.

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UN peacekeepers in South Sudan with one of their helicopters (UNMISS)

"UNMISS is concerned about recent claims that it is harbouring criminals in its Protection of Civilian (POC) sites. Such statements only serve to discredit the impartial nature of the Mission’s operations and are regrettable,” UNMISS said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

Although the world body did not refer to any specific accusation from South Sudan government, its officials, including the country’s information minister had, in the past, accused the six UNMISS PoCs, manned by a 12,000 strong peacekeepers, of harbouring criminals.

The accusation comes on the backdrop of last month’s incident in which 12 civilians were killed near the UNMISS base, prompting the government to suggest the armed men lived in the POC.

Currently, the UN said, there are 202,700 individuals who have taken refuge at UNMISS bases across the country since December 2013.

According to the world body, strict security measures have been put in place to stop infiltration of people into the site, with ammunition.

Persons seeking protection are searched on entry to maintain arm free civilians nature of these sites, said UNMISS in the statement.

"UNMISS wishes to emphasize that it is engaged in the protection of those South Sudanese residing in its PoC sites, and elsewhere, in strict accordance with the terms of its mandate to protect civilians in imminent danger, and to provide these vulnerable populations with life-saving services in close partnership with humanitarian and protection partners," it further stressed.

Relations between UNMISS and Juba government has been rocky since conflict broke out in the young nation in December 2013.

The government accuses peacekeepers of being sympathetic to the armed opposition, allegations that have been proven incorrect. The UN Security Council authorized additional 4,000 in August with a mandate to respond to attacks on civilians, but are yet to deploy due to government’s reluctance to accept the force.

UNMISS has, however, reminded South Sudanese authorities of their primary responsibilities to protect the country’s unarmed civilians.

"In protecting civilians, UNMISS calls upon the cooperation of local communities and the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) which bears the primary responsibility for protecting all South Sudanese citizens," said the UN in its statement.

(ST)