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South Sudan Munitions Explosion Kills 7

The UN leads an unexploded ordnance disposal exercise at a primary school site in October 2013. Unexploded ordnance poses a serious threat in South Sudan.

Seven people were killed and a teenage boy was wounded when a container filled with ammunition exploded in a South Sudanese village, an international aid official said Tuesday.

The deadly explosion occurred in the village of Gayiel near Thar Jaath, in Unity state, on Friday.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said the container held ordnance left over from heavy fighting between government and rebel forces in Unity state last year.

Florian Westphal, general director for MSF Germany, who was visiting Unity state when the explosion ocurred, said a 14-year-old boy was the only blast survivor and was “not yet in a state to talk about it directly.” Westphal said a fire set to clear land for farming may have caused the deadly explosion.

Unexploded ordnance

According to the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), explosives that were intended for use in South Sudan’s ongoing conflict have been found in urban and rural areas.

UNMAS said unexploded munitions have made some roads impassable, particularly in Unity state. Last year alone, five vehicles hit anti-tank landmines on roads near Bentiu, the state capital.

According to the Information Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA) database, more than 700 sites in South Sudan are suspected of containing unexploded ordnance. These sites are expected to be cleared over the next five to eight years.

Westphal said, “The worst thing about this is that people aren’t necessarily aware of the threat unexploded ordnance poses and, very often, people -- especially children -- may pick up objects because they think they are something to play with and they don’t realize that these objects can be very dangerous.”

The United Nations began demining what was then known as Southern Sudan a decade ago. By November 2014, more than 33,000 landmines and 850,000 unexploded weapons had been destroyed in the country, the U.N. said.