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UN helicopter 'shot down' in South Sudan

Xinhua | Updated: 2014-09-10 10:01

UNITED NATIONS - The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has confirmed that UN helicopter which crashed in South Sudan last month killing three Russian crewmen was "shot down."

The mission said "experts who concluded the first stage of their investigation yesterday have uncovered evidence on the circumstances of the crash of a UN Mi-8 helicopter on Aug 26, indicating that the aircraft was shot down," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters at a daily briefing held Tuesday.

The helicopter, which was on a routine cargo flight from Wau in Western Bahr El Ghazal state to Bentiu, crashed on Aug 26 about 10 kilometers south of Bentiu in Unity State, killing three Russian crewmen and severely injuring a fourth.

For the past two weeks, the mission has been conducting preliminary investigations into the crash. In addition to the mission's own probe, which began right after the crash, a technical investigation has also started with the participation of the United Nations, South Sudanese and Russian experts.

The mission has also confirmed that, during a phone call with a staff member in Bentiu on Aug.17, Peter Gadet, the commander of opposition forces in Unity State, alleged that UNMISS aircraft were being used to transport Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) troops and threatened to shoot it down, Dujarric said.

The staff member refuted the accusations and to ensure the safety of its aircraft, UNMISS immediately started sharing information on all its flights into Bentiu with the opposition forces as well as the SPLA.

However, the spokesman said that these findings come as a preliminary probe, it is "premature" at this stage to conclusively apportion blame for the shooting down of the helicopter.

"A more in-depth technical investigation which is being conducted in compliance with international air safety standards is underway," said Dujarric, who added that an independent Board of Inquiry has also been established by the United Nations to look into the incident and will provide additional information to determine the source of the ground fire for bringing the copter down.

Political in-fighting between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, started in mid-December 2013 and has since turned into a full-fledged conflict that also sent nearly more than 102,000 civilians fleeing to UNMISS bases around South Sudan.

Overall, the crisis has uprooted some 1.5 million people and placed more than 7 million at risk of hunger and disease.

On Aug 15, the latest round of clashes broke out in Bentiu after the two rivals and their representatives fell short of the goal of reaching a power-sharing deal through talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, facilitated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

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