A “shining object” may have caused a helicopter crash in eastern DR Congo in which eight United Nations peacekeepers died, UN investigators said on Wednesday after a preliminary inquiry.
Six Pakistanis, a Russian and a Serb were killed when a Puma helicopter with the UN mission MONUSCO crashed while on reconnaissance over the troubled region on Tuesday.
Military authorities in North Kivu province have accused the M23 rebel group of downing the chopper — the faction denies the charge and instead blames the Congolese army.
“The initial preliminary observations of our force headquarters describe a crash that may have been caused by a shining object,” Khassim Diagne, the deputy special representative for protection and security at MONUSCO, told the French radio station RFI.
The mission’s deputy spokeswoman Ndeye Khady Lo confirmed this account.
“The wreckage of the helicopter has been located, an inquiry is underway and should be able to ascertain more about the nature of this object,” she said.
The crash seems to have an “external” cause, she said, but stressed it was “premature” to rule out an accident.
Diagne, in his remarks to RFI, said that investigators were not ruling out any scenario, including “an attack”.
The helicopter came down in the Tchanzu area of Rutshuru Territory, where the army and the M23 rebels had been fighting the day before.
The M23 — its name derives from “March 23 Movement” — emerged years ago from an ethnic Tutsi Congolese rebellion in North Kivu that was once supported by Rwanda and Uganda.
The group was defeated by the army in 2013 but has resurfaced since November, accused of staging several raids on military positions around Rutshuru.
The movement claims the authorities in the capital Kinshasa have failed to respect commitments undertaken to ease the demobilisation and integration of its combatants.
The bodies of the eight peacekeepers have been taken to Goma, North Kivu’s capital, MONUSCO said on Wednesday.