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The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) will hold a memorial service today for three of its staff members who died during a helicopter crash in Bentiu on Tuesday.

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) will hold a memorial service today for three of its staff members who died during a helicopter crash in Bentiu on Tuesday.

The Mission extended its heartfelt condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of the three crew members who lost their lives in the crash, 10 kilometres south of Bentiu. The MI-8 helicopter had been contracted by UNMISS. All the three who dies were of Russian nationality. There was one survivor from the crash.

 

In a press statement yesterday, acting UNMISS chief Toby Lanzer said the UN was treating the crash as an act of hostile attack, noting that the helicopter came down in an area that is contested and where both the warring parties have been seen previously.

 

He announced that the mission was now in possession of the black box, voice recorder and control panel from the crashed helicopter and that the investigations had started. He added that the investigations will shed more light on what actually happened.

 

Earlier, the government side had accused the rebels of being behind the helicopter crash, but this was promptly refuted by the rebels through their spokesman, terming the accusations as baseless and unfounded. The rebels promised to fully cooperate with UNMISS when the investigations commence.

Mr. Lanzer, who is also the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, said the crash had an immediate impact on all peacekeeping and humanitarian operations as the UN was forced to ground all flights to Bentiu, until the safety of its personnel can be guaranteed. 

“The scale of need in Bentiu is so high that we need to start flying (there) as soon as possible,” he said. “But at the end of the day, the safety of our personnel (and) equipment comes first.”

 

At the same time, the UN Security Council said the attack constituted a grave violation of the Status of Forces Agreement and jeopardized UNMISS operations.  It called upon UNMISS and the government of South Sudan to conduct swift and transparent investigations.

 

The Council members emphasized that those responsible for the attack must be held accountable and all necessary measures taken to avoid such attacks in the future.

 

Toby recalled that in December 2012, another UN helicopter was shot down in Likuangole, Jonglei State, and left four Russian crew members dead. He said that even after investigations revealed who was responsible, no action was taken against them. He said this must not be allowed to happen again.

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