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JUBA - 14 Oct 2016

PoC Juba residents deny having weapons amid incitement fears

Community leaders in the UN protection camps in Juba strongly deny that they have any weapons and insist that they are just “normal civilians” after the South Sudanese army today claimed that some camp residents are keeping weapons and threatened to deploy forces around the camps.

Approximately 40,000 people live in the camps known as 'Protection of Civilians' sites.

Today two community leaders in the camps insisted that there are no soldiers among them and nobody is armed. They expressed concerns about public allegations made by the SPLA to press in Juba today.

Reverend Matthew Dhol said, “I am a man of the Lord and I will not tell a lie... in the place were we are staying in UNMISS there are no soldiers and we do not have anyone carrying weapons. In this camp in PoC1 and PoC3 we do not have anyone armed. These are just civilians.”

A member of the camp leadership in PoC3, Char James Kim said that the citizens inside the camps in Juba are not rebels, they are just unarmed civilians. He says that uniforms that the army displayed to press today may have been discarded around the protection sites but do not belong to people inside.

“Let me be frank to you – you know always if there is a field of battle always there can be military equipment just left behind. And those equipment they do not belong to IDPs. Maybe they belong to IO soldiers but maybe it goes back to that time of July, not now,” he told Radio Tamazuj.

“Another thing here: inside we don't have guns inside the PoC site. We don't have soldiers. If there are former soldiers already inside the PoC then they are no longer soldiers,” said Char. “There is no any opposition inside the camp. We are just normal civilians. And we don't support any person. We just support peace.”

Accusations and denials

SPLA today called journalists to its Bilpham headquarters in Juba to display uniforms and other military gear that it says belonged to soldiers that have gone into the protection sites. Col. Santo Doming, the army's deputy spokesman, told Radio Tamazuj that they got the uniforms from UNMISS.

“Yes we have uniforms, we have uniforms, during the fighting in July, after Riak left, majority of them didn’t want to go with him, so they entered the UNMISS PoC here in Juba,” he claimed.

“They entered with uniforms, we don’t know where did they put their guns, the UN has collected all the uniforms, all the uniforms are more than 1,000 outside here, I am the one who brought them now with a car, there are uniforms of wounded people because you can see blood, the uniforms were brought and handed over to the SPLA,” he added.

“So, we told the UN that these are the uniforms, but where are guns? They said they do not know about the guns, we think that UN mandate does not allow any person to enter the UN premises with a uniform or with a gun, so the guns might have been hidden somewhere.”

But PoC community member Char strongly denies this saying, “We don't have guns, we don't have anything. If there is anything maybe they found it behind the fence, but not inside the PoC site.”

But the SPLA spokesman insists that camp residents are responsible for attacks on their checkpoints near PoCs 1, 2 and 3 on the road going to Yei. “From time to time they attack our people and return to the UN,” he said. Char dismisses this: “That is unknown gunmen – but it is not IDP – IDPs they don't have anything, they are just normal civilians, they cannot do that.”

But Colonel Santo explained that they convened an event today with all the Juba press because they want South Sudanese to believe that UNMISS is harboring rebels. “Today we brought the uniforms, and we invited all the media houses because we want to prove to the Southerners that still there are pockets of rebels inside the UNMISS premises.”

“So this is what we have done, the uniforms are here, maybe tomorrow they will be given to the people of archive as evidence that still people of Riek have entered UNMISS and they are causing problems in Juba,” he said.

A spokesperson for UNMISS did not immediately respond for comment. Previously, however, the mission has carried out disarmament searches inside the PoCs and also recently did a sweep for weapons around the camps, publishing photos on its website of the weapons searches. The mission has a policy not to hand over seized weapons to SPLA but it destroyed some.

Attack fears

The SPLA spokesman's comments today are not unprecedented. Minister of Information Michael Makuei several times accused the peacekeeping mission of supporting rebels, including in March 2014 when he displayed weapons that he said UNMISS was shipping to the rebels though actually they were meant for a contingent of Ghanaian peacekeepers.

After an attack on the UN protection site in his hometown Bor the next month he justified the attack saying that the victims were 'rebels'.

“We cannot continue to accommodate rebels inside UNMISS compounds,” he said, implying that the unarmed civilians who were killed were legitimate targets of war.

For his part President Salva Kiir has previously spoken angrily over UNMISS' refusal to hand over guns that he says belong to the SPLA. In remarks in 2014 he said, “You will get guns with uniforms [on UN bases]… I asked them to give us back our guns… so there is a problem with the international community and it is something that people will have to thrash out with them.”

Today Colonel Santo likewise said that the UN should hand over any guns that they got from the camp residents. “Secondly, we are trying to negotiate with UN, if the guns are inside there, they should be given to us, if they are outside there, we will carry out a campaign to search around the areas near the UN because there is a residential area, maybe they hide the guns in the neighbourhood, we will search the guns and seize the guns,” he added

According to Reverend Dhol, such statements are signs that the army is planning a possible attack against the protection camps.

“They want to implicate the people in the camp so that they commit crimes against the people inside... this is not the first time that the government has made accusations against the camp residents. These are reasons that they can make up to attack the camp,” he said.

The church leader insisted that they are unarmed. “It is not true,” he said of SPLA's claims. “It is just not true.”

Photo (above): A woman at the UN camp in Juba in July 2016 (Credit: UNMISS/Eric Kanalstein)

Gallery photos 1,2, 3 (below): A display of military uniforms that SPLA showed to press today at Bilpham

Gallery photo 4 (below): UNMISS weapons sweep around the protection camps after fighting in the area in July