18 September 1961
Mounting evidence suggests the involvement of British intelligence services in the assassination of UN secretary general, Dag Hammarskjöld, on 18 September 1961. He was killed along with 15 others, when his DC-6 aircraft, which had taken off from Leopoldville, the capital of Belgian Congo, was downed shortly after midnight on its approach to Ndola in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). Hammarskjöld was attempting to negotiate a settlement of the fighting over Katanga in the Republic of Congo, where powerful western mining companies were backing secessionist forces.
Katanga had enormous reserves of uranium, as well as tin and copper, all vital to US and European strategic interests. The United States and Britain were deeply concerned that the secretary general was siding with the newly elected prime minister of Congo, Patrice Lamumba, who wished to pursue an independent development of his country’s resources. In 1998, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission uncovered eight letters which revealed that MI6, the CIA and South African intelligence had jointly conspired to sabotage the aircraft, although Britain insisted these were ‘Soviet forgeries.’1 More recently, local eyewitnesses have attested that a second smaller aircraft attacked the larger UN plane.2
In July 2015, the United Nations published the results of its own investigation into the causes of the crash, which agreed there was ‘significant new information’ which supported growing suspicions that “aerial attack or other interference” was responsible. Historical documents held in the UK confirm that at least one British agent was in the Ndola area at the time the Secretary General’s aircraft was downed. However, despite the mounting evidence of foul play and possible MI6 involvement, the UK has refused UN requests for the release of uncensored versions of documents from the National Archives.3
- Stephanie Hegarty, ‘Dag Hammarskjold: Was his death a crash or a conspiracy?’ BBC World Service, 17 September 2011, accessed online at url https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-14913456 and Matthew Hughes, ‘The strange death of Dag Hammarskjöld,’ History Today, Volume 51, 10 October 2001.
- Julian Borger and Georgina Smith, ‘Dag Hammarskjöld: evidence suggests UN chief’s plane was shot down,’ The Guardian, 17 August 2011, accessed online at url https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/aug/17/dag-hammarskjold-un-secretary-general-crash
- Katie Engelhart, ‘What Does the UK know about the mysterious plane crash that killed a UN Secretary-General,’ Vice News, 23 July 2015 accessed online at url https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/vb8m5y/what-does-the-uk-know-about-the-mysterious-plane-crash-that-killed-a-un-secretary-general
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