Eight UN peacekeepers killed in helicopter crash in DRC
Officials said six Pakistanis, a Russian, and a Serb were killed during a deadly reconnaissance mission.
Eight UN troops — six Pakistanis, one Russian, and one Serb – were killed when a Puma helicopter crashed in the turbulent eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on Tuesday, according to UN and Pakistani officials.
“While undertaking a reconnaissance mission in Congo, 1 Puma Helicopter crashed. The exact cause of the crash is yet to be ascertained,” the Pakistani military’s media wing said. It added that six Pakistani troops were among those killed.
In New York, a representative for UN Secretary-General António Guterres confirmed the disaster and identified the nationalities of all eight dead.
According to Congolese military authorities in North Kivu, the M23 armed forces "shot down" the aircraft, a claim that has not been substantiated by other sources.
The UN mission in the DRC stated earlier in a tweet that one of its helicopters had "lost touch" while on a reconnaissance operation in the Rutshuru region of North Kivu province, where Congolese forces had been fighting M23 armed forces.
After months of suspicion and decades of mistrust between the DRC and its neighbor Rwanda, a spokesperson for the North Kivu governor issued a statement on Monday alleging the M23 "carried out incursions and attacked positions" of the army the previous night, backed by the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF).
According to Gen Sylvain Ekenge, the attacks took occurred in the Rutshuru area near Tchanzu and Runyoni. To back up his claims, he said two Rwandan soldiers were apprehended during Monday's attacks, naming a warrant officer and a private. In footage seen on Congolese television, two accused soldiers disguised in civilian clothes stood next to him.
Patrick Muyaya, the DRC's communications minister and government spokesperson, said Monday night that following the army claims, the foreign ministry would "ask Rwanda's ambassador to come and give us some explanations."
The ambassador, Vincent Karega, denied the accusation of Rwandan collusion, saying in a tweet that “Rwanda does not support the M23 politically or militarily.”
The governor of Rwanda’s western province, François Habitegeko, also hit back on Twitter. “We would like to categorically refute the baseless accusations and state that RDF is not by any means involved in the belligerent activities” in DRC, he wrote.
He added that the two men displayed on Congolese television had been arrested “more than a month ago” and were not the soldiers named.
M23 spokesperson Willy Ngoma, in a video message, said the movement was strictly Congolese and did not receive “any assistance … from any neighboring country.”