Hammarskjöld’s plane ‘shot down’: report

New evidence has emerged to suggest that the plane of Swedish UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjöld was shot down in 1961 and the incident then covered up by British colonial authorities.

Hammarskjöld's plane 'shot down': report

According to a report in the Guardian newspaper, new eye-witness testimony gathered by Swedish aid worker Göran Björkdahl supports the theory that Hammarskjöld’s plane was shot down by a second, unidentified aircraft.

Björkdahl also reviewed diplomatic communications from the weeks prior to the crash indicating that US and British authorities were upset about a UN military operation ordered by Hammarskjöld to counteract a rebellion reportedly supported by western mining companies in the mineral-rich Katanga region.

At the time of the crash, which occurred over Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) on the night of September 17th, 1961, Hammarskjöld’s support for decolonisation had upset many of the major powers on the UN Security Council, but had earned him the backing of many third world countries.

He was thought to be assured of winning another term as UN Secretary General at the upcoming General Assembly vote, scheduled to take place just weeks after the crash.

While Björkdahl remains uncertain about who may have killed Hammarskjöld, he said he now better understands the motives behind why the headstrong Swedish diplomat may have been killed.

“It’s clear that there were a lot of circumstances pointing to possible involvement by western powers,” he told the Guardian.

“The motive was there – the threat to the west’s interests in Congo’s huge mineral deposits. And this was the time of black African liberation, and you had whites who were desperate to cling on.”

A British-led inquiry conducted at the time of the crash cited pilot error as the likely cause.

The findings, which were later adopted by a subsequent UN investigation, downplayed eye-witness testimonies from nearby villagers that there had been a second plane in the vicinity of Hammarskjöld’s DC-6 when it crashed.

But interviews conducted by Björkdahl over the last three years, with surviving witnesses from the area near the crash site, revealed that Northern Rhodesian security forces sealed off the site within hours of the crash and ordered residents to leave the area.

Dickson Mbewe, 84, described how the plane was shot down near his home in Chifubu.

“We saw a plane fly over Chifubu but did not pay any attention to it the first time,” Mbewe told the Guardian.

“When we saw it a second and third time, we thought that this plane was denied landing permission at the airport. Suddenly we saw another aircraft approach the bigger aircraft at greater speed and release fire which appeared as a bright light.”

According to Mbewe, the plane later “went down and disappeared”.

When he went to explore the crash site early the next morning, he discovered soldiers and police officers steering people away from the wreckage even though the official report of the incident claimed that the downed plane wasn’t discovered until 3pm in the afternoon.

Mikael Holmström, a security affairs correspondent with the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper, called the new findings “sensational” despite the fact that much of the evidence cited in the Guardian report has been known for years.

“But the fact that authorities may have sealed off the site long before the plane was officially found is totally new and that indicates there could have been a cover up,” he told SvD.

Holmström also said it’s “tragic” that Sweden didn’t push harder to gain clarity regarding what actually caused the crash.

“It was clear shortly after the crash that the accident investigation was incomplete,” he said.

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Sweden to host UN Yemen talks

The United Nations intends to convene peace talks on Yemen soon after receiving firm assurances from the parties that they will attend negotiations in Sweden, the UN envoy said Friday.

Sweden to host UN Yemen talks
Yemen's Deputy UN ambassador Marwan Ali Noman Al-Dobhany during a meeting last month of the United Nations Security Council on Yemen at UN headquarters. Photo: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews/TT

The Saudi-backed government and the Huthi rebels have shown a “renewed commitment” to work on a political solution to end a war that has driven millions to the brink of famine, Martin Griffiths told the Security Council.

“With this in mind, I intend to reconvene the parties shortly and to do so in Sweden,” he said. “I believe we are close to resolving issues to make this happen.”

“I have received firm assurances from the leadership of the Yemeni parties … that they are committed to attending these consultations. I believe they are genuine.”

Griffiths plans to travel to the rebel-held capital of Sanaa next week to finalize arrangements and offered to travel with the Huthi delegation to Sweden “if that's what is needed.”

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has agreed to “logistical arrangements” to pave the way for talks including medical evacuations out of Sanaa, he added.

Griffiths announced he was close to reaching a deal on an exchange of prisoners and detainees, in a further confidence-building measure ahead of planned talks.

The United Nations had announced talks in Geneva in September that never materialized after the Huthis put forward last-minute demands.

The Saudi-led coalition has been waging a war in Yemen since March 2015 to push back the Iran-backed Huthis and restore to power Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, whose government is recognized by the United Nations.

Pressure to end the Saudi-led military campaign has grown following the killing by Saudi agents of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which sparked global outrage.

Back from a visit to Yemen, the head of the UN World Food Programme warned that the country faces a full-blown famine in about six months because of the economic collapse from the war.

“What I have seen in Yemen this week is the stuff of nightmares, of horror, of deprivation, of misery,” David Beasley told the council. “Children are already dying.”

Eight million people are affected by severe food shortages, according to UN officials, who warn that up to 14 million — or half of Yemen's population — are at risk of famine.

“This is a crucial moment for Yemen,” Grffiths said of the talks in Sweden, warning that a flareup of fighting on the ground could derail the peace effort. No date for the talks was announced.

READ ALSO: Sweden calls on UN to halt offensive on Yemen port