JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — Rebels in South Sudan said Thursday they have seized U.N. barges they suspected were transporting weapons for government troops, and have been holding 16 peacekeepers who were aboard.
A dozen peacekeepers from Bangladesh were detained but have been released, Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh's junior minister for foreign affairs, told The Associated Press. A rebel spokesman said U.N. peacekeepers were still being held, three days after the barges were seized. It was not possible to immediately reconcile the versions.
The detention of the Bangladeshi peacekeepers was a case of "mistaken identity" as they were suspected of belonging to a rival group, Alam said. They were released following an identity check, Alam said.
The barges with at least 27 people aboard, including crew members, were taken along the White Nile in a disputed area.
James Gatdet Dak, a spokesman for rebel leader Riek Machar, confirmed the barges were seized but did not specify how many.
Two government soldiers, three officers of the national security agency and six barge technicians were among those detained, said Nyagwal Ajak Dengkak, a spokesman for a rebel commander who controls the area. Rebel forces are taking "tough action against our enemies captured including U.N. soldiers currently disarmed and jailed for the world to know the truth of conspiracy between" the South Sudanese military and the U.N. mission, he said in a statement. The barges were seized on Monday, he said.
The U.N. troops in detention will be treated "like criminals," he said.
The barges were seized at Kaka on the rebel-controlled west bank of the river. The east side, where the U.N. mission has bases, is held by government troops.
Ariane Quentier, a U.N. spokeswoman, said the mission is dealing with the situation.
AP writer Julhas Alam in Dhaka, Bangladesh, contributed to this report.