JUBA: South Sudan’s rebels and army traded blame on late Wednesday (Thursday in Manila)for shooting down a United Nations helicopter killing three crew and scuppering a day-old ceasefire deal, the fourth in eight months of war.
The members of the UN Security Council condemned in the strongest terms on Thursday the downing near Bentiu, Unity State (South Sudan) of the helicopter performing a cargo flight to the area. It had four Russian crew members.
“The rebels shot it down,” army spokesman Philip Aguer said, while rebel spokesman Mabior Garang said: “This was not our work,” he added.
The UN Security Council did not say which side was to blame, but said that “those responsible for the attack must be held accountable and all necessary measures to avoid such attacks in the future must be taken.”
Thousands of people have been killed and more than 1.8 million have fled a civil war sparked by a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar.
Rebel forces in Unity state, the war-torn region where the helicopter crashed, are led by warlord Peter Gadet, who has been slapped with sanctions for atrocities by both the United States and the European Union.
Aguer said on Wednesday the helicopter was “shot by forces of Riek Machar under Peter Gadet.”
But rebels insisted the attack took place over an area controlled by the army.
“We were not to blame,” Garang told Agence France-Presse by telephone from Ethiopia.
“Our soldiers on the ground reported that there was an explosion, but according to our reports, it was in the territory held by the government,” he added.
The attack has raised deep concern among aid workers and diplomats.
British Ambassador to South Sudan Ian Hughes said the “tragedy underlines the risks humanitarians run daily helping the vulnerable.”
UN cargo helicopters are vital to supplying peacekeeping bases and providing food for civilians, particularly as aid agencies have warned of the risk of famine should fighting continue.
Noel Molony, who heads the aid agency Concern Worldwide in South Sudan, said it was “a deeply troubling development in what has already an extremely challenging environment.”
AFP WITH REPORT FROM UN NEWS