A rebel commander who had warned the UN not to fly over his territory shot down a UN helicopter in rural South Sudan on Tuesday, August 26, 2014 it was claimed.
The UN confirmed three people were killed when a Mi-8 cargo helicopter crashed near Bentiu, in the north, and it is investigating.
Bentiu is a hotly contested area between the government and rebel fighters in the region. The UN said it was deeply concerned about the fate of its crew and a search and rescue team had been sent to the site. The helicopter crew were Russian citizens, and had been contracted from a Russian company, said Stephane Dujarric, a spokesperson for the UN secretary general in New York. The one survivor is receiving treatment from Médecins sans Frontières, he said.
South Sudanese rebel commander Peter Gadet had warned the UN last week not to fly over his territory, according to a spokesperson for the governor of Northern Bahr el-Ghazal state, Akol Ayom Wek. He claimed Gadet’s forces shot down the helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade.
South Sudan has seen widespread violence since December between rebels loyal to the 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 ceasefire and form a national unity government within 45 days. Wek, who serves in a region loyal to Kiir, said the shooting 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 UN helicopter over the weekend that was carrying a six-member verification team from the regional bloc called IGAD. One member of that team died of natural causes while being held.
Elsewhere in South Sudan, Wek said the son of deceased 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 wanted to confront Kiir for destroying his father’s legacy, suggesting Garang may have intended to carry out an assassination attempt.
Ethiopian officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.