Claude de Kemoularia, 85, who was Hammarskjöld’s close aide, recounts in a new book of memoirs how several years after the death he was approached by three Belgians who said they accidentally shot down the secretary-general’s aircraft.
Hammarskjöld died in September 1961 as he tried to negotiate a settlement with the breakaway Congolese province of Katanga, whose independence was backed by European mercenaries.
His death in a plane crash is officially described as an accident, but several murder theories have circulated over the years.
In “Une vie a tire-d’aile” (A Life Swiftly Lived), de Kemoularia says that in 1967 two former Katangan mercenaries and a pilot came to him in Paris with their story.
They said they had had instructions from a shadowy “control group” of Europeans headed by a man code-named “X” to intercept Hammarskjöld’s aircraft in order to force a face-to-face negotiation with mercenary leaders.
The pilot said he fired warning shots at the secretary-general’s DC-6, but accidentally hit the plane which then crashed.
Asked why the mercenaries had come to him with their tale, de Kemoularia told AFP: “They were afraid for their lives. They wanted to set the record straight and show it was an accident. At the time ‘dogs of war’ like them were extremely unpopular.”
Kemoularia said the men had seemed sincere but he had no way of verifying the information. At the time he had communicated their account to the Swedish government, but nothing came of it.
“I want to open a new inquest. Forty years have passed, but some of the actors are still alive and maybe they will feel more inclined to talk today,” de Kemoularia said.