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SA backs UN probe into Hammarskjöld’s death

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In response to “SA and the death of Dag Hammarskjöld”, (Mail & Guardian, February 7), the government reiterates its support to the United Nations investigation into the death of the former UN secretary general.

Hammarskjöld was on a peace mission to the then Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) when his plane crashed in Ndola, Zambia, on September 18 1961.

South Africa has consistently supported the mandate of the UN investigator, Tanzania’s former chief justice, Chande Othman, to examine new information that has emerged regarding the circumstances surrounding the events of Hammarskjöld’s death.

As rightly indicated in the article, South Africa, together with 128 other countries, co-sponsored a resolution in the UN general assembly in December to extend the mandate of the UN investigator. As a co-sponsor of this resolution, South Africa remains committed to fully co-operate with the UN investigation.

Othman requested that UN member states conduct a review of their archives to determine whether any relevant documentation exists that may assist with the investigation.

South Africa has been asked to search for and confirm the existence and status of documents referring to a purported “Operation Celeste”, allegedly conducted by a covert organisation of the apartheid regime, the “South African Maritime Institute (SAIMR)”, in 1961. The documents could not be traced or verified and the existence of SAIMR and Operation Celeste could not be confirmed, and this was communicated in a letter to Othman.

Unfortunately, arrangements to meet or speak to Othman telephonically could not be scheduled by the time his report was published.

The government has undertaken a renewed search for this information so that the UN can conclude its investigation. We are hopeful that the extended UN investigation into the death of Hammarskjöld will shed light on what truly happened in 1961.

The government reiterates its support for the work of the UN and fully respects its commitments to abide by UN resolutions. We will continue our efforts to assist the UN investigation into the death of the former secretary general in whatever way we can.

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