This post has been updated. See the note below for details.
A United Nations helicopter was shot down after being targeted by South Sudanese armed forces, killing all four crew members on board, U.N. deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said Friday.
The MI-8 helicopter, which was not carrying passengers, crashed in the eastern state of Jonglei, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan said in a brief statement. South Sudanese armed forces informed the U.N. peacekeeping mission that they had shot at a helicopter near the settlement of Likuangole on Friday, the same area where the crash occurred, Del Buey said.
"Initial reports indicate that the U.N. helicopter crashed and burned," he said.
A South Sudanese army spokesman disputed the U.N. statement Friday, telling Reuters news service that the helicopter was downed by Yau Yau rebels, not the army.
[Updated 1:35 p.m. Dec. 21: Reuters later reported that an army spokesman said South Sudanese forces had, in fact, shot the U.N. helicopter, mistaking it for a plane supplying the rebels. The spokesman said the U.N. mission had denied having a flight in the area when asked.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier said the craft was “clearly marked,” and condemned its downing and extended his condolences to the families of those killed.]
The helicopter was on a reconnaissance flight at the time. An investigation has been launched into the circumstances surrounding the crash, the mission said in its statement.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission was created to ensure security and help create conditions for the fledgling nation of South Sudan to develop and govern itself effectively, according to the mission's website.
The area where the crash occurred, Jonglei state, has been plagued with tribal violence that has undercut stability in the country, which gained its independence from Sudan last year. The army has been accused of failing to stop or even fueling the violence. The U.N. mission issued a blistering report this summer on the bloody rounds of attacks, charging that the government failed to stop or investigate the assaults.
Human Rights Watch also faulted the government in August for beatings and other abuses by soldiers trying to disarm people in the volatile region. The Small Arms Survey, a research group based in Geneva, said in October that such efforts could actually contribute to violence.
Besides seeking to disarm the areas wracked by tribal violence, the South Sudanese commander behind the controversial campaign recently announced that armed forces would also launch "aggressive attacks" against the Yau Yau rebels, the Sudan Tribune reported.
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