An eminent jurist has appealed to India to share any information it may have on a plane crash that killed former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, which he said was possibly the result of “hostile action”.
The request to India was contained in the report by former Tanzanian Chief Justice Mohamed Chande Othman on the September 1961 crash that was released on Wednesday.
Othman said that “given the decolonisation and geopolitical situation of the Congo in the 1960s and contributions made to UN operations” India may hold relevant information about the crash 56 years ago while Hammarskjold was on a crucial mission to resolve the Congo crisis.
India was a major player in the UN peacekeeping operations in Congo at that time, contributing around 4,700 troops to the mission.
Othman was asked by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to look into the latest information emerging about the crash, which had been the subject of several investigations and myriad theories.
Othman said that “it appears plausible that an external attack or threat may have been a cause of the crash” near Ndola in what is now Zambia and was then the British-controlled Northern Rhodesia.
The Swedish DC-6 aircraft crashed while Hammarskjold, the second head of the UN, was on his way to Ndola for negotiations to end the civil war that broke out in the newly independent Congo when the Western-backed Katanga province seceded.
The troops of Congo’s former colonial power Belgium and mercenaries intervened to back the secessionists and the UN launched its first major peacekeeping operation to restore peace.
After examining the various theories about the crash in the light of new information from some of the principal actors in the drama, Othman said: “It appears that it would have been plausible for hostile action emanating from outside the plane to have been a cause of its crash, whether by way of direct attack causing it to crash, or a momentary distraction of the pilots by a perceived threat which caused them to fly too low and crash.”
“There is a significant amount of evidence from eyewitnesses that they observed more than one aircraft in the air, that the other aircraft may have been a jet, that SE-BDY (Hammarskjold’s DC-6) was on fire before it crashed, and/or that SE-BDY was fired upon or otherwise actively engaged by another aircraft,” he added. “In its totality, this evidence is not easily dismissed.”
Some of the new information came from the US, Britain, Belgium and the UN itself.
Othman said that it is likely that additional information still remains buried among the records of various countries and they “should thoroughly review their intelligence, security, defence and other records and disclose or at least confirm the existence of any relevant material or, if no such relevant material exists, make an explicit and unequivocal statement to this effect”.
Guterres “is of the view that the information made available to the UN to date has been insufficient to come to conclusions about the cause or causes of the crash,” his spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters.
Therefore, he endorses Othman’s recommendation that member countries “appoint an independent and high-ranking official to conduct a dedicated and internal review of their archives, in particular, their intelligence, security and defence archives” for any information they may have on the crash, Haq added.
India’s former Foreign Secretary Rajeshwar Dayal headed the UN Congo Mission but was removed under pressure from some of the Western countries just months before the death of Hammarskjold because of his stand against the secessionists in the mineral-rich Katanga region.
Congo, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, is still in turmoil and 2,627 Indian personnel are deployed there in the UN stabilisation mission known by the French acronym Monusco.