Sweden urges fresh look into secretary general death

Carole Landry
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Secretary-General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjold, pictured here in Leopoldvillem,Congo on 13 September 1961

Secretary-General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjold, pictured here in Leopoldvillem,Congo on 13 September 1961 (AFP Photo/)

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - Sweden asked the United Nations on Monday to reopen an inquiry into the mysterious death more than 50 years ago of secretary general Dag Hammarskjold, citing new evidence and a need to close "an open wound."

Hammarskjold died when his plane went down near Ndola in what was then Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, on September 18, 1961, but countless studies have failed to nail down the cause of the crash.

Ambassador Per Thoresson presented a draft resolution to the UN General Assembly on setting up a panel of experts that would follow up on a report last year by an independent commission that cited new information in the baffling case.

One of the key points of the text is an appeal to all member states including the United States to release records on the circumstances of the plane crash that may have been kept secret until now.

"This has been an open wound in Sweden for more than 50 years," Thoresson told AFP. "We are anxious to try to make closure."

The ambassador said new forensics techniques could be used to examine the wreckage of the plane and that witnesses from that time have yet to be fully heard.

Investigators have never had full access to records from the United States, Britain and other countries concerning the crash that occurred as Hammarskjold was on a peace mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The draft resolution co-sponsored by 41 countries including Zambia will be discussed by a General Assembly committee this week and will return for a vote to the plenary before the end of the month.

- Shedding new light -

Thoresson said he expected strong support for the resolution and that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon could then appoint the panel in the coming months.

"The purpose of this resolution is thus 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 Swedish envoy told the Assembly.

Hammarskjold, who was UN secretary general from 1953 until his death, was on a mission to broker a peace deal between the Kinshasa government and separatists in Katanga province when his plane crashed.

The mineral-rich province was at the time fighting to secede, with the backing of the West and their commercial interests in the region.

In its report last year, the commission of inquiry called on the United Nations to reopen a probe and asked the US National Security Agency to release cockpit recordings to confirm whether a mercenary fighter jet may have shot down the plane.

Fifteen people including Hammarskjold died when the DC-6, known as the Albertina, smashed into the ground near Ndola as it came in to land ahead of a meeting between the UN's top official and Katanga leader Moise Tshombe.

A sole survivor of the crash died days later.

"We... consider the possibility that the plane was in fact forced into its descent by some form of hostile action is supported by sufficient evidence to merit further enquiry," the 2013 report added.

The commission cited new witnesses who claimed to have seen a second aircraft shooting at the Albertina on the fateful night.