UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. General Assembly voted unanimously Monday to ask Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to appoint an independent panel of experts to examine new information about the mysterious plane crash that killed U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold on a peace mission to newly independent Congo in 1961.
The 193-member world body approved a resolution by consensus encouraging member states to release any relevant records and information on his death in the plane crash over the African bush in Northern Rhodesia — today's Zambia.
The assembly's action follows an independent investigation by a Commission of Jurists released in September 2013 which concluded that "significant new evidence" exists which might shed light on the circumstances of Hammarskjold's death. It said the U.S. National Security Agency may hold crucial evidence, which remains classified.
Hammarskjold was flying into a war zone infested with mercenaries and riven by Cold War tensions.
Congo won its freedom from Belgium in 1960, but foreign multinationals coveted its vast mineral wealth. The country was challenged by a Western-backed insurgency in Katanga, which hosted mining interests belonging to the U.S., Britain, and Belgium. The Western countries were also jockeying for influence with the Soviet Union, which was trying to spread communism to the newly independent nations of Africa.
All four powers had a stake in the outcome of Congo's struggle, and all four have been fingered as potential suspects in Hammarskjold's death.
Three investigations into the tragedy have failed to satisfactorily settle the matter. The publication of "Who Killed Hammarskjold?" by Susan Williams in 2011 set off a renewed round of speculation because it relied on testimony ignored by earlier inquiries.
The resolution approved by the General Assembly requests that the panel appointed by Ban examine the new information and "assess its probative value." It asks the secretary-general to give a progress report to the assembly during its next session which begins in September 2015.
It has long been rumored that Hammarskjold's DC-6 plane was shot down, and the independent commission said recordings of the last minutes of the flight, possibly in the NSA archive, could be key to explaining why the aircraft crashed.
The commission said the NSA reported that two of three documents "responsive" to its request for any radio intercepts were classified "top secret" and could not be released, a decision it is appealing. The status of the third document, which is not held by the NSA, is still unknown, the commission said.
Ban, in a note in March, asked the General Assembly to press several governments, which he didn't identify, to declassify relevant records.
"The unparalleled service and sacrifice of Dag Hammarskjold and his legacy within the United Nations and beyond compels us to seek the whole truth of the circumstances leading to his tragic death and that of the members of the party accompanying him," Ban said.