16. Dezember 2014

New Inquiry Is Sought in 1961 Death of the U.N. Leader Dag Hammarskjold

It has been one of Africa’s enduring mysteries, redolent of days when mercenaries roamed the bushlands and outsiders scrambled to exploit a continent’s riches as it struggled for independence: How and why did Dag Hammarskjold, the United Nations secretary general, die? The DC-6 airplane carrying Mr. Hammarskjold (pronounced HAH-mahr-shuhld), a Swedish diplomat, crashed in September 1961 as it approached Ndola, a mining town in Zambia, which at the time was called Northern Rhodesia. Official inquiries failed to explain what happened.
But last year, a United Nations panel concluded that there was “persuasive evidence that the aircraft was subjected to some form of attack or threat as it circled to land at Ndola.” On Monday, Sweden formally asked the United Nations General Assembly to reopen the investigation. Significantly, the request included an appeal for all member states to release any hitherto unpublished records — a reference aimed largely at securing the declassification of American and British files, particularly intercepts thought to have been made at the time by the National Security Agency of the United States.
The issue is not simply a matter of historical loose ends. “This has been an open wound in Sweden for more than 50 years,” the Swedish envoy to the United Nations, Per Thoresson, told Agence France-Presse. “We are anxious to try to make closure.” A definitive explanation of the crash would throw light on a critical moment in Africa’s history during the Cold War. It coincided with a time of secession in the neighboring Congolese province of Katanga, where Belgian and other Western mining concerns held lucrative concessions producing uranium and cobalt.
Mr. Hammarskjold was on his way to meet a Katangese separatist leader, Moise Tshombe, in Ndola when his plane came down in wooded terrain a few miles from the airport. Delays in locating the wreckage magnified the question of whether pilot error was to blame, as one early inquiry suggested, or whether there had been foul play.
Conspiracy theories flourished: Had the United Nations official died in the crash, or was he killed afterward by mercenaries? Had South Africa sabotaged the plane? Was it deliberately shot down to thwart Mr. Hammarskjold’s mission? In a report issued in September 2013, a United Nations panel, led by Stephen Sedley, a retired British judge, referred to evidence of a second airplane flying close to or alongside the DC-6 carrying Mr. Hammarskjold, named the Albertina.
A Belgian former pilot was quoted as saying that he had been under orders to force the plane to divert to Kolwezi, a mining center in Katanga, and had fired warning shots that accidentally clipped the DC-6 and brought it down.
“The aerial attack claim,” the report said, “is in our judgment capable of proof or disproof.” It concluded, moreover, that the United States had access to crucial evidence that could prove to be a so-called golden thread in a maze of uncertainty.
“It is highly likely that the entirety of the local and regional Ndola radio traffic on the night of 17-18 September 1961 was tracked and recorded by the N.S.A., and possibly also by the C.I.A.,” the report said.
Indeed, the report continued, a Freedom of Information Act request to the N.S.A. drew a response that two of three documents it sought “appeared to be exempt from disclosure by reason of ‘top secret’ classification on national security grounds.” In his request for a new inquiry at the United Nations on Monday, Mr. Thoresson, the Swedish diplomat, repeated the call for secret documents to be released. The aim, he said, is “to help shed new light on the circumstances surrounding the death of Dag Hammarskjold and those on board his flight, not only by bringing existing documents forward, but also by providing the conditions necessary to finally hear witnesses whose testimony has so far not been given due attention.” (The New York Times)

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