UN helicopter shot down in South Sudan
Nairobi, Kenya — A rebel commander who warned the U.N. not to fly over his territory shot down a U.N. helicopter Tuesday in rural South Sudan, charged a spokesman for a state governor.
The U.N. confirmed that three people died and one survived when one of its helicopters crashed. The U.N. said it is investigating the cause.
The U.N. mission said that an Mi-8 cargo helicopter crashed near Bentiu, a hotly contested area between the government and rebel fighters. The U.N. said it was deeply concerned about the fate of its crew and that a search and rescue team had been sent to the site.
The crew were Russian citizens, and the helicopter had been contracted from a Russian company, said Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general in New York. The survivor is receiving treatment from Doctors Without Borders, he said.
South Sudanese rebel commander Peter Gadet had warned the U.N. last week not to fly over his territory, said the spokesman for the governor of Northern Bahr el-Ghazal state, Akol Ayom Wek. Gadet’s forces shot down the helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade, said Wek.
South Sudan has seen widespread violence since December between rebels loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar and government soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir.
The helicopter’s downing comes one day after the two warring sides signed an agreement in Ethiopia to work toward a permanent cease-fire and form a national unity government within 45 days.
Wek, who serves in a region loyal to Kiir, said the shoot-down by Gadet confirms that Machar has no control over him and other rebel fighters and commanders, calling into question Machar’s role in negotiations as leader of the rebels.
Gadet, Wek said, was also responsible for impounding a U.N. helicopter over the weekend that was carrying a six-member verification team from the regional bloc called IGAD. One member of that team died while being held of natural causes.
Elsewhere in South Sudan, Wek said that the son of deceased South Sudan rebel leader John Garang was arrested in Ethiopia after being discovered at a reception at Kiir’s hotel with a loaded gun. Wek said that during interrogation Mabior Garang said he wanted to confront Kiir for destroying his father’s legacy, suggesting that Garang may have intended to carry out an assassination attempt.
Ethiopian officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.