South African peacekeeper killed after helicopter comes under fire mid-flight in DR Congo
A UN peacekeeper was killed on Sunday in the restive eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after the helicopter he was travelling in came under fire after taking off from the city of Beni.
In a statement issued by his Spokesperson, UN Secretary-General António Guterres strongly condemned the attack, which left the South African ‘blue helmet’ dead, and another wounded.
.@antonioguterres strongly condemns the attack against a helicopter of @MONUSCO. He recalls that attacks against United Nations peacekeepers may constitute a war crime under international law. Full statement: https://t.co/6CpBpQ1QN5UN_Spokesperson
According to news reports, the severely injured peacekeeper was able to continue flying, and along with the rest of the crew, managed to land at the airport of the provincial capital, Goma.
There is no indication so far who was responsible for the attack, or what weapon was used in the assault.
Eastern DRC is home to multiple armed groups, including the rebel M23 force, which has been fighting a major campaign against Government troops in recent months, supported by the UN mission there, known by its French acronym MONUSCO, as part of its protection-of-civilians mandate.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed during the violence at the hands of armed groups, including women and children.
Last March, eight peacekeepers were killed when their helicopter crashed in an area of North Kivu province where the Congolese army was engaged in heavy fighting with M23.
Call for immediate ceasefire
At a summit of the East African Community on Saturday in Burundi, regional leaders renewed their call for an immediate ceasefire by combatants involved in eastern DRC. Kinshasa has accused the Rwandan Government of supporting the M23 rebels, a charge categorically denied by authorities in Kigali.
M23 has seized many areas of North Kivu province in eastern DRC since last October, threatening to advance on the provincial capital.
More than 500,000 have reportedly been displaced by intense fighting in the province since last March, and earlier in the week, Pope Francis made his first visit to DRC calling for an end to violence. An agreement signed in November when rebels agreed to withdraw, failed to come to fruition.
The head of MONUSCO, and Special Representative to DRC, Bintou Keita, briefed the Security Council in December, telling ambassadors that the security situation had “deteriorated dramatically” in previous weeks.
Guterres pledges continuing support
In his statement, Mr. Guterres expressed his deepest condolences to the family of the fallen peacekeeper, and to the Government and people of South Africa, wishing a speedy recovery to the injured following the dramatic helicopter landing.
He recalled that such attacks against peacekeepers "may constitute a war crime under international law." He asked Congolese authorities to investigate the heinous attack, and bring those responsible to justice as soon as possible.
“The Secretary-General reaffirms that the United Nations, through his Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, will continue to support the Congolese Government and people”, the statement continued, “in their efforts to bring about peace and stability in the east of the country.”