LONDON — Gunfire from mercenaries caused the plane crash that killed U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold in 1961 in Africa, two former U.N. officials said in a letter published Friday.
The mercenaries were hired by Belgian, American and British mining companies that feared their business would be hurt by Hammarskjold's attempt to mediate a dispute in Zaire, a copper-rich former Belgian colony, according to the letter in The Guardian.
The mercenaries were hired to intercept the U.N. chief, but instead they accidentally shot down his aircraft, they said.
Inquiries after the Sept. 17, 1961, crash in what is now Zambia made no suggestion that Hammarskjold's plane was shot down. The new theory was outlined in a letter by George Ivan Smith and Conor Cruise O'Brien, who were U.N. representatives in Zaire in the 1960s.
Smith, in an accompanying interview, said the charges were based on 20 taped interviews with the mercenaries. He said the tapes were collected by a friend, a senior French diplomat, in the 1970s and that Smith acquired them about five years ago.
The officials said they were making their charge public now because they want to call attention to the dangers U.N. peacekeepers face in the former Yugoslav state of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The Guardian quoted Smith as saying the mercenaries were employed by a Belgian mining company, Union Miniere de Haut-Katanga, and were also acting under orders from British and American mining interests he did not identify. Union Miniere issued a statement Friday denying the allegations.