London — South Sudanese army, SPLA, shot down a United Nations helicopter in the troubled state of Jonglei, killing all the members of its Russian crew, the international organisation said.
Boxes and sacks of food are unloaded from a U.N. helicopter in Pibor January 12, 2012.(Reuters)
Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, announced Friday that the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reported that one of its MI-8 helicopters with four crew members on board was shot down.
He said that "in subsequent communications between the Mission and the South Sudanese armed forces (SPLA), the SPLA told the Mission that it had shot at a helicopter in the Likuangole area in Jonglei State."
UN Secretary General and UN Security Council condemned the shooting down and urged Juba to investigate the accident, to hold the responsible accountable and to avoid its repetition in the future.
"The Secretary-General strongly condemns the shooting down today of a clearly marked UN helicopter by the Sudan People's Liberation Army near Likuangole, in Jonglei State of South Sudan."
In their communiqué, the members of the Security Council "stressed that this accident constituted a grave violation of the Status of Forces Agreement of August 8, 2011 and jeopardized the UNMISS operations".
Buey said the plane was on a reconnaissance flight to the area, adding that after its crash a search and recovery mission confirmed the death of all four crew members.
South Sudanese army in a first time denied the shooting down of the helicopter, however it admitted later its responsibility and regretted the accident saying its troops had mistaken it for a Sudanese plane supplying Yau Yau rebels in Jonglei state.
SPLA spokesperson Philip Aguer, told Reuters that their forces opened fire on the helicopter because they had no information from the UNMISS about its presence in Pibor where a rebel group is operating.
"We saw a white plane landing and asked UNMISS whether they had any flight in the area but they denied it. The army opened fire because it thought it was an enemy plane supplying Yau Yau with weapons." he said.
"We later heard UNMISS had a flight there. They should have informed us," Aguer added.
South Sudan accuses the Sudanese government of supplying weapons to Yau Yau rebel group in Jonglei state, but Khartoum denies the charge.
There are some 120 Russian pilots and technicians working in the UNMISS operating four Mi-8MTV helicopters.
Initially, there was eight Russian helicopters in South Sudan but in the autumn of 2011 after attacks on the Russian pilots Moscow decided to withdraw four of them.
In January 2012, Susana Malcorra, undersecretary-general of the UN Department of Field Support announced that Russia is considering to withdraw its helicopters from the new state.
Russia's Itar-Tass news agency said Friday that Moscow plans to withdraw its peacekeepers from South Sudan by the end of March 2013.