Expert panel delivers report to UN on Hammarskjold crash

AP News
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Posted: Jun 12, 2015 7:14 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — An independent panel of experts that examined new information about the mysterious 1961 plane crash that killed Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold on a peace mission to newly independent Congo has delivered its report to current U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. said Friday.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the secretary-general will study the panel's findings, conclusions and recommendations and release the report, "subject to any considerations of a medical or private nature," as soon as possible with his own assessment "and options on the way forward."

Hammarskjold's plane crashed over the African bush in Northern Rhodesia, today's Zambia. One issue for the panel was whether the DC-6 plane was shot down.

Three investigations into the tragedy have failed to satisfactorily settle the matter.

Dujarric said Ban is pleased that the panel visited Zambia to meet with new witnesses, and that it gathered new information from member states and other sources including national and private archives in Belgium, Britain and Sweden.

The U.N. General Assembly voted unanimously on Dec. 29 to ask Ban to appoint an independent panel to examine. On March 16, he appointed Tanzania's Chief Justice Mohamed Chande Othman to chair the panel. Its other members were Kerryn Macaulay, Australia's representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization, and Henrik Ejrup Larsen, a ballistic expert in the Danish National Police.

The assembly's action followed publication of "Who Killed Hammarskjold?" by Susan Williams in 2011 which set off a renewed round of speculation because it relied on testimony ignored by earlier inquiries. It also followed an independent investigation by a Commission of Jurists released in September 2013 which concluded that "significant new evidence" existed which might shed light on the circumstances of Hammarskjold's death. It said the U.S. National Security Agency might hold crucial evidence, which remains classified.

Congo won its freedom from Belgium in 1960, but foreign multinationals coveted its vast mineral wealth.

Hammarskjold was flying into a war zone infested with mercenaries and riven by Cold War tensions.

The country was facing a Western-backed insurgency in Katanga, which hosted mining interests belonging to the U.S., Britain, and Belgium. The Western countries were 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 published reports have pointed fingers at all four as potential suspects in Hammarskjold's death.