M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) reportedly shot down a Puma medium transport helicopter in MONUSCO service, killing all eight people aboard.
“A search and rescue operation was launched today (Tuesday, 29 March) after a Puma helicopter lost contact with colleagues and crashed earlier.
“The helicopter, with eight people on board, including six crew members – all from the Pakistani military – and two military personnel – one from the Russian Federation and one from Serbia – were on a reconnaissance mission in the Tshanzu area, south-east of Rutshuru in North Kivu,” Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, told the daily UN noon briefing.
A MONUSCO search and rescue mission subsequently recovered all eight bodies.
There were clashes in area between the rebel group and Congolese forces “in recent days” he said, adding an investigation was underway.
Reports have it M23 rebels gained ground in the area where the rotary-wing aircraft was doing reconnaissance with “heavy fighting” 50 km north-east of provincial capital Goma.
The DRC’s military said the Puma was shot down by M23 rebels, but the rebels claimed the Congolese military was responsible.
The Congolese army claimed the rebels, backed by the Rwanda Defence Force, “carried out incursions and attacked positions” since the weekend, one report said, adding two Rwandan soldiers backing M23 were captured by DRC forces. Rwanda denied involvement in the violence.
Dujarric said Guterres was “concerned by the resurgence of M23 activities in the tri-border area around Rwanda-DRC-Uganda as well as the ongoing impact of violence involving armed groups on civilians”.
The Pakistan Army Aviation Corps operates 40 Pumas acquired from Aerospatiale and IAR since the late 1970s. According to the Pakistan government, it deployed Pumas in DRC since 2011 – three aircraft are typically deployed at a time. In April 2017, a Puma was substantially damaged in a crash-landing at Kavumu.
Pakistan is the largest troop contributor to MONUSCO with 1 974 military personnel in the sprawling central African country ahead of India’s 1 888. South Africa is fifth on the list of MONUSCO troop contributing countries.