JUBA - The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) on Tuesday destroyed hundreds of weapons, including firearms, machetes and pistols, that had been confiscated from or surrendered by internally displaced persons (IDPs) are sheltering at U.N. sites in Juba.
In the presence of foreign diplomats and members of the news media, staff of the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) fed pistols, AK-47 assault rifles, iron bars and other arms into a weapons-shearing machine that sliced the items into small, unusable pieces.
“In order to reassure all concerned parties that the weapons and ammunition will never be used to commit any acts of violence including human rights violations, UNMISS has decided to destroy these items in full public view,” said UNMISS head Ellen Margrethe Loej.
Over 1,500 rounds of ammunition recovered from IDPs will be detonated near the community of Nyolo, south of Juba, on Wednesday. More weapons and ammunition destruction events will be held later this month at UNMISS bases in Malakal, Nassir, Wau, Bentiu and Bor, an UNMISS spokesman said.
Loej said that since the South Sudan crisis began nearly a year ago, civilians and ex-combatants seeking shelter at UNMISS compounds have undergone thorough security checks and surrendered all weapons in their possession before being allowed into UNMISS protection sites.
UNMISS police and military personnel have also seized weapons during routine searches of civilian protection sites.
“These arms and ammunition have been recovered from civilians and ex-combatants regardless of their political loyalties or ethnic backgrounds,” said Loej. “We hope that the destruction of all confiscated weapons and ammunition... will help foster an environment that is conducive to the silencing of the guns and the restoration of peace to the world’s youngest nation-state.”
The government did not send a representative to Tuesday's weapons destruction exercise, but UNMISS spokesman Joe Contreras said the government fully backs the move.
“I can assure you that this event, and the series of events that will follow, involving destruction of weapons and ammunition recovered from internally displaced persons, is being done with complete support of the ministry of defense and the rest of the South Sudanese government," he said.
President Salva Kiir has in the past requested that weapons seized from people seeking protection from UNMISS be returned to the government.
The year-old conflict in South Sudan pits forces loyal to President Kiir against those who back his former deputy, Riek Machar. At least 10,000 people have been killed and nearly two million have been forced to flee their homes.
Peace talks between government and opposition have been suspended by mediators from regional bloc IGAD to give both sides time to consult about key issues, including the make-up of a transitional government.
Top government officials, including Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin and Information Minister Michael Makuei, have told South Sudan in Focus that they expect the conflict to end soon.