The U.N. Mission in South Sudan said Tuesday it has evidence that a U.N. helicopter that crashed near Bentiu last month was shot down.
UNMISS spokesman Joe Contreras told VOA it is still too early to “apportion blame for the attack on the helicopter,” which claimed the lives of three Russian crewmembers and seriously injured a fourth.
“A more in-depth technical investigation is under way and the United Nations will set up an independent board of inquiry to look into the incident. The additional information should make it possible to conclusively determine who fired on that helicopter on that Tuesday,” Contreras said.
UNMISS said the aircraft was on a routine cargo flight from Wau in Western Bahr el Ghazal to Bentiu when it came down on Aug. 26.
Just over a week before the crash, U.N. staff in Bentiu received a phone call from Peter Gadet, the commander of opposition forces in Unity state, who said he believed UNMISS aircraft were being used to transport government forces, UNMISS said in a statement.
Gadet threatened to shoot down the U.N. mission’s aircraft, the statement said.
A spokesman for the SPLA said hours after the crash that Gadet’s men had shot down the chopper.
Gadet is one of three South Sudanese military officials who have had their assets frozen and been hit with a travel ban by the United States and the European Union. He has been accused of leading an attack on the town of Bentiu in April, in which more than 200 civilians were killed, some while they were sheltering in mosques, churches and hospitals.
Contreras said the investigation is ongoing and called for whoever is found to be responsible to “be held accountable and punished for this unprovoked and deadly attack.”
“Also, we want to remind them that the peacekeeping mission and, for that matter, all the United Nations agencies have full freedom of movement guaranteed to them, and they should respect all freedom of movement in South Sudan, and also respect the inviolability of both our personnel and our assets and facilities,” he said.
UNMISS is working with U.N., South Sudanese and Russian experts to fully investigate the attack on the helicopter. Contreras did not indicate how long the investigation is expected to last.