UN Says Couldn’t Identify Attackers in 2014 S.Sudan Helicopter Downing

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Published Saturday, February 28, 2015

A UN inquiry concluded that a Russian helicopter was probably hit by anti-aircraft fire when it crashed in South Sudan last year, but could not determine who was responsible for the attack, the UN spokesman said on Friday.

Three Russian crew members were killed and a fourth injured in the downing on August 26 of the Mi-8 helicopter flying for the UN mission in South Sudan.

The board of inquiry concluded that "there is a high probability that the helicopter was hit by anti-aircraft fire which caused mechanical failure and eventually leading to the crash," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

But the seven-member panel "was not able to identify the attackers," he added.

The helicopter was downed in the northern Bentiu region where both government forces and rebels were operating and "the firing could have come from either party," said Dujarric.

In September, the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) had indicated that a rebel leader, Peter Gadet, had a hand in the attack.

UNMISS revealed that Gadet had claimed during a phone call with UN staff prior to the crash that UN aircraft were being used to transport government troops.

During the phone call, Gadet "threatened to shoot down the mission's aircraft," the statement said.

UN cargo helicopters are vital to supplying UN peacekeeping bases and providing food for civilians who have taken refuge in the bases following the outbreak of war in December 2013.

Helicopters are also crucial in reaching remote regions hardest hit by the fighting, which aid agencies say has pushed the country to the brink of famine.

Unrests broke out in South Sudan, the world's youngest nation, in December 2013 when President Salva Mayardit Kiir accused his sacked deputy Riek Machar of attempting a coup.

Over two dozen armed forces — including government soldiers and allied militias backed by Ugandan soldiers on one side, and a range of rebel factions on the other — have been battling it out for the last 14 months despite seven ceasefire agreements.

The UN estimates that 2.5 million people in South Sudan are in a state of emergency or crisis, just steps short of famine.

No overall death toll for the war has been kept by the government, rebels or the UN, but the International Crisis Group estimates that at least 50,000 people have been killed.

Warring factions have repeatedly failed to reach a power-sharing agreement and previous seven ceasefires were violated by both sides.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)


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