December 22, 2012 (BOR) - The commissioner of Pibor, Joshua Konyi, claims that the helicopter shot down on Saturday in Jonglei was supporting rebels in the area and denied claims that it was downed by the South Sudan army (SPLA).
- UN peacekeepers in South Sudan with one of their helicopters (UNMISS)
Spokesperson for the SPLA, Philip Aguer confirmed that the helicopter was shot down on Friday by the SPLA, claiming that the army mistook it for an “enemy plane supplying [rebel leader] Yau Yau with weapons."
The UN has announced that the accident, in which all four Russian crew members died, "constituted a grave violation of the Status of Forces Agreement of August 8, 2011 and jeopardized the UNMISS [UN Mission in South Sudan] operations".
According to Konyi "the helicopter landed in the rebel area and five minutes after it took off, it crashed near our SPLA front line."
He also claimed that he contacted UNMISS authorities in Pibor county and Likuangole payam [district], where the incident allegedly took place, “but they said they had no message about the presence of an UNMISS helicopter in the area,” this led them to believe that the aircraft belonged to Yau Yau.
Aguer on Friday stated that UNMISS did not acknowledge the presence of the aircraft, which was on a reconnaissance mission in the area, prior to the incident.
Konyi said that they have not yet visited the site of the incident as it is near the battlefield.
The Jonglei state governor, Kuol Manyang declined to confirm or deny to Sudan Tribune whether or not the SPLA shot down the UN helicopter.
UN deputy spokesperson Edurado del Buey said the SPLA informed UNMISS "that it has shot down the helicopter in the Likuangole area in Jonglei state."
Aguer repeated on South Sudan TV on Saturday, "our forces on the ground in Likuangole contacted office of the United Nations Mission in Pibor to inquire whether they have information about the movement of any aircraft to the area but they were told ’no’."
He also claimed they also contacted UN offices in Bor and Juba but they were given the same information; that they were not aware of any movement, "so our forces on the ground, considering that the government of Sudan had in the past used white planes to supply ammunition and other military support to rebels in Jonglei, concluded that the government of Sudan was supplying the rebels of David Yau Yau."
Aguer said that proof of a such actions by Khartoum had been found, when a plane ferrying ammunition and weapons from Sudan to the late late rebel, George Athor was captured in Paloch in 2011.
However, the minister of information and broadcasting service who also serves as the official government spokesperson, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, said the government regrets the shooting and has sent condolences to the government of Russia; the headquarters of the UN in New York; and UNMISS office in South Sudan.
He said his government is willing to cooperate with the UN teams to investigate circumstance which led to the shooting of the aircraft.