UNITED NATIONS:United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “deeply saddened” over the loss of eight UN peacekeepers– six Pakistanis, a Russian and a Serb– on Tuesday when a Puma helicopter carrying them on a reconnaissance mission crashed in the troubled eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), his spokesman said in a statement.
The statement, released by Spokesman Stephane Dujarric Tuesday evening, said the peacekeepers’ bodies were recovered from the North Kivu region during a search and rescue operation launched by the UN Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO).
“The Secretary-General expresses his sincere condolences to the bereaved families and to the Governments of Pakistan, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Serbia, whose troops were among the casualties,” the statement said.
“An investigation is underway,” the UN chief added.
And in a phone call with Pakistan’ s Ambassador to the United Nations, Munir Akram, the Secretary-General assured him of a “comprehensive and transparent” investigation into the incident that has shocked the nation, according to Pakistani mission to the UN.
“The helicopter, operated by the Pakistani contingent, was on a reconnaissance mission in the area of Tshanzu, where there have been clashes between the
M23 group and the Armed Forces of the DR of Congo (FARDC) in recent days,” the UN chief said in a his statement.
The M23, a rebel organization, has regrouped after being routed nearly a decade ago by DRC troops and UN peacekeepers and it has launched attacks on the DRC military.
Intense fighting between the M23 and the DRC forces was reported starting Sunday
Congolese military authorities in North Kivu said the M23 rebel group had “shot down” the aircraft, a claim not yet confirmed by other sources, according to a media report.
“The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the resurgence of M23 activities in the tri-border area around Rwanda-DRC-Uganda as well as the ongoing impact of violence involving armed groups on civilians,” the statement said.
It added, “The Secretary-General reiterates the United Nations’ commitment to support the Congolese Government and people in their efforts to bring peace and stability in the eastern provinces of the country”.
Expressing his grief over the incident, Ambassador Munir Akram said in a statement, “Today in an unfortunate spate of events, six brave Pakistani peacekeepers embraced martyrdom in a helicopter crash. They made this ultimate sacrifice while serving in Democratic Republic of Congo as part of the UN contingent.
“My heart goes out to the families of the martyrs. They will always be in our prayers,” the Pakistani envoy added.