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UN: Aircraft faced many attacks in S.Sudan

By AFP

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The shooting down of a UN helicopter in South Sudan by the army, which killed four Russian crew, is the latest of a long line of UN troubles with government forces in the country, a UN spokesman said Saturday.

The United Nations also rejected South Sudanese claims that the helicopter, shot down on Friday in troubled Jonglei state, had not told authorities in advance of its flight plans.

A UN peacekeeping spokesman, Kieran Dwyer, said there have been other incidents of Sudan People's Liberation Army troops shooting at aircraft operated by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

"Since September 27, 2011, to date, six other incidents have occurred involving detention, searching, or shooting at UNMISS aircraft and threatening of passengers and crew," Dwyer said.

The downed MI-8 helicopter was under contract from a Russian firm. The Russian government had withdrawn its helicopters from UNMISS in early 2012 because of attacks.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon has led widespread condemnation of the army act in shooting down the helicopter.

Tensions are high again in Jonglei state where it is currently the wet season. A UN official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the helicopter had been looking for dry spaces to land peacekeepers in case of new unrest.

The helicopter was shot down near the town of Likuangole where hundreds were massacred in ethnic clashes one year ago.

A South Sudan military spokesman, Philip Aguer, said the helicopter was hit by "friendly fire." He said the United Nations had not told the SPLA that the craft was in the region.

The UN peacekeeping spokesman responded: "The mission shares all flight plans in advance with the government and the SPLA."

South Sudan became independent in July last year after breaking away from Sudan and has received major UN and international support. But the UN has also made many protests to the world's newest nation.

In August last year, a UN human rights official for South Sudan was allegedly beaten in his hotel room by police. Last month, the UN protested after South Sudan expelled a UN human rights investigator over her reports on events in Jonglei.

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