x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UN helicopter crashes in Darfur

A helicopter contracted to UN-led peacekeepers crashed in Darfur, killing all four crew members, after being fired at.

A UN helicopter crashed on Sept 29 2008 outside of Kalma camp carrying four passengers. The UN is still investigating cause of the crash.
A UN helicopter crashed on Sept 29 2008 outside of Kalma camp carrying four passengers. The UN is still investigating cause of the crash.

NYALA, SUDAN // A helicopter flying for a United Nations peacekeeping mission crashed this morning outside a camp for displaced people in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region. All four people on board, including the three Russian crew members, were killed, according to UN officials on the scene. The nationality of the other passenger was not immediately known. Major-Gen Hashim Osman, the assistant director-general for security and criminal investigations, identified the fourth person as a Sudanese member of the crew. Aid workers with Doctors Without Borders removed two of the bodies, while the others remained buried under the twisted, burning frame of the helicopter. The UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur, known as Unamid, is still investigating the cause of the crash and investigators did not know whether the helicopter had been shot down. "The cause is not yet known," said Isaac Makofane, a military spokesman for Unamid. "We should know more tomorrow." The Russian Mi-8 helicopter was delivering food to a peacekeeping base in southern Darfur. It was being operated by Supreme Food Co, a catering company that supplies rations to the UN mission, according to an official with Sudan's Civil Aviation Authority. The helicopter had just left the airport in Nyala, the regional capital, when it crashed in a field of watermelon and sorghum. The wreckage was still smouldering two hours after the crash. Pieces of the helicopter were strewn across an area the size of a football pitch. Carrots, bags of potatoes, boxes of cereal, powdered milk and tea bags - the helicopter's cargo - were sprinkled around the wreckage. A laptop computer lay in pieces next to the flaming craft. UN police officers kept hundreds of curious Darfuris away from the site. Mohamed Ibrahim, who lives in the nearby Kalma Camp for displaced people, said he saw the helicopter explode in midair. "There was a big noise," he said through a translator. "After the sound, the helicopter divided into two. It was completely covered in fire in the sky, and then it crashed into the ground." Mr Ibrahim said he did not hear gunshots before the helicopter crashed. UN police officers, who arrived first on the scene, claimed that they heard gunshots after the crash. Investigators are still trying to determine whether the helicopter was shot down. According to Agence France-Presse, Major-Gen Osman said: "A helicopter hired by Unamid was shot at from Kalma camp." Four UN helicopters have been shot down in the past year. Peacekeepers have been attacked on the ground as well, most recently in July, when rebels killed seven UN soldiers. The UN mission is supposed to include 26,000 soldiers, but so far only 8,000 have deployed since UN force was combined with an African Union peacekeeping mission last year. The rest of the soldiers should be on the ground with in a year, UN officials say. The Sudanese government says Kalma camp, near the crash site, is a haven for Darfuri rebels. Last month, government forces attacked the camp to root out the rebels and ended up killing 30 mostly women and children. The Kamla camp is home to more than 100,000 displaced people who have fled the fighting in Darfur. At least 2.5 million have been displaced in the five-year conflict that started as a dispute between African tribes and Arab nomads over land and water. mbrown@thenational.ae