JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — Hundreds of young South Sudanese men marched in protest of the United Nations on Monday following the discovery of land mines inside a U.N. truck that was marked as carrying food.
The rally participants marched through the city and shouted slogans of support for President Salva Kiir while also denouncing Hilde Johnson, the top U.N. official in the country. Protesters accused Johnson of supplying arms to rebels fighting South Sudan's government.
An internal U.N. security situation report over the weekend said the government impounded 12 U.N. trucks and the deputy governor of Lakes state requested the official cargo list. Last Thursday three South Sudan soldiers stopped and searched U.N. military vehicles on orders from superior officers following the impounding of the 12 trucks, the report said.
On Friday U.N. spokeswoman Ariane Quentier said it was "regrettable" a 12-truck U.N. convoy marked as food was discovered carrying weapons. "The transport of cargo of general goods belonging to the Ghanaian battalion on its way to Bentiu. Several containers were wrongly labeled and inadvertently contained weapons and ammunition," she said.
The discovery — as well as a video showing guns and land mines taken from the U.N. trucks that has been making the rounds on social media — has fueled even more skepticism of the U.N. here. Anti-U.N. sentiment began growing in January when President Kiir described the organization as a "parallel government" and ardent supporter of rebels.
Quentier declined to comment further on Monday and the U.N. has not explained why its soldiers would need land mines. "If the guns found are going to U.N. troops, why do they have land mines too? Does the U.N. use land mines?" said Deng Gerang, one of Monday's rally participants, voicing a common concern among the protesters.
Another protester, Deng Djames, 24, said South Sudan residents appreciate the U.N.'s assistance, but he said there needs to be a regime change at the top of the U.N. structure. "We want her to go. She assists the rebel leader Riek Machar," he said.
South Sudan Vice President James Wani Igga told the protesters that the U.N. is was a colonial system trying to run the government's administration. He was also critical of international aid groups for driving their agenda in South Sudan.
"If it's a colonial system we need to fight, then that is good because now I am old. It makes me young again and I will go into the bush to fight," he said to cheers and laughter. The government's major criticism of the U.N. is the protection its bases around the country provide for close to 70,000 citizens mostly from the Nuer tribe who say they fear reprisal attacks from the dominant Dinka tribe who support the government and Kiir.
Widespread violence broke out in South Sudan in mid-December, splitting the country's military in two, with some supporting the government and others defecting to support the former vice president, Machar, an ethnic Nuer.
Aid groups estimate that thousands of people have died in the violence. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced. The top U.N. aid official has said that if residents don't go home to plant crops before the coming seasonal rains the country will face severe hunger.
The latest mass violence occurred last week, when fighting broke out at a military barracks outside Juba. Government and military officials blamed the outbreak over a disagreement over pay, and officials said that five people were killed.
However, the death toll was later revised upward to 65 by a military spokesman. Several soldiers who refused to give their names, however, told The Associated Press the actual death toll was more than 100.