UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations Mission in South Sudan strongly condemned an attack Thursday on a convoy of U.N. barges taking supplies to staff and displaced civilians in Malakal, Upper Nile State.
U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters the attack, which injured four crew members and peacekeepers, was unprovoked.
“The barges came under small arms fire, and rocket-propelled grenades were also fired at the convoy of four vessels,” he said.
This is the second time this month U.N. operations in South Sudan have been targeted, following a mob attack on a U.N. base in the town of Bor April 18.
The U.N. mission says Thursday's attack took place as four barges steamed east on the Nile River, carrying food and fuel to the U.N. base in Malakal, Upper Nile State, where thousands of civilians have taken refuge from violence.
The U.N. mission has not yet identified the gunmen who attacked the barges as they made their way along the Nile River towards the U.N. base in Malakal.
Both the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and SPLA in Opposition forces have denied responsibility for the attack and said their fighters were not present in the area.
The United Nations said it received all necessary clearances from the government before the convoy set out six days ago.
The U.N. Security Council has condemned two other recent acts in South Sudan - a massacre in Bentiu, where more than 200 civilians were reportedly killed, and a mob attack on a U.N. base in Bor.
The Council has warned President Salva Kiir and his rival, former vice-president Riek Machar, that they must publicly state all attacks on civilians are unacceptable and hold perpetrators accountable.
The Council has said it is willing to take additional measures, which could include targeted sanctions on those sponsoring or encouraging unrest, should the violence continue, and has also U.N. human rights office to investigate the massacre last week in Bentiu, where civilians were killed along religious and ethnic lines.
On Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power called on the international community to sanction those who are targeting civilians or acting as "political spoilers."
On Twitter, Power also accused South Sudan's government of inciting violence against peacekeepers.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said Wednesday that neither the South Sudan government nor rebels has shown real interest in taking part in peace talks to defuse the ongoing crisis. He also faults the government for not adequately protecting its people.
"The United Nations is doing everything it can to protect the civilians that are fleeing the violence, the war," he said. "But let us never forget that the primary responsibility for protecting civilians is with the government. We are there to support but it is the government of South Sudan to make it so that its citizens are not killed."
Also Thursday, spokesman Haq said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon telephoned leaders in the regional bloc, IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority for Development), to express support for their efforts to bring South Sudan's government and rebel forces back to the negotiating table.
“The secretary-general feels that the two parties need to be warned strongly of the consequences of their actions before the country descends into yet further violence,” he said.
The United Nations, which has is nearly 8,500 peacekeepers in the country, is sheltering 78,000 civilians at eight U.N. bases in Juba, Malakal, Bentiu and Bor.
Fighting between pro- and anti-government forces that erupted in South Sudan in mid-December has killed thousands and displaced more than one-million South Sudanese.