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wedish in­ves­ti­ga­tors prob­ing if a se­cret South African spy op­er­a­tion could have been re­spon­si­ble for shoot­ing down the plane car­ry­ing then UN sec­re­tary-gen­eral, Dag Ham­marskjöld, 54 years ago, are due back in the coun­try next month.

New in­for­ma­tion has emerged prompt­ing the re­open­ing of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the con­tro­ver­sial death of the UN head in Ndola, Zam­bia, in 1961. He was on a peace mis­sion to the newly in­de­pen­dent Congo.

Two Swedish re­searchers who trav­elled to South Africa in June this year to probe cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the plane crash, are con­fi­dent they have ob­tained new leads that could help solve the 54 year mys­tery.

UN sec­re­tary-gen­eral Ban Ki-moon said on June 12 that an in­de­pen­dent panel of ex­perts who ex­am­ined new de­tails into the mys­te­ri­ous death of Ham­marskjöld had de­liv­ered its re­port.

Ac­cord­ing to Ban’s spokesper­son, Stephane Du­jar­ric, one of the is­sues the panel in­ves­ti­gated was if the plane was shot down while fly­ing over the old North­ern Rhode­sia, now Zam­bia.

A Swedish tele­vi­sion and film doc­u­men­tary maker – An­dreas Rock­sén, MD of Laika Film & Tele­vi­sion in Stock­holm – and Swedish aid worker Göran Björk­dahl are look­ing into the pos­si­ble con­nec­tion of a sin­is­ter South African or­gan­i­sa­tion, the SA In­sti­tute for Mar­itime Re­search (SAIMR) in the al­leged as­sas­si­na­tion of Ham­marskjöld.

“Part of our in­ves­ti­ga­tion is to look at how the ‘hit squad’ that al­legedly bombed Ham­marskjöld’s plane was linked to the SAIMR in the apartheid years,” said Rock­sén.

The ex­is­tence of this pri­vate in­tel­li­gence out­fit op­er­at­ing from South Africa first be­came known in 1990. The or­gan­i­sa­tion had close ties with jailed Pol­ish as­sas­sin Janusz Waluś. He was linked to the unit a few years be­fore he mur­dered SA Com­mu­nist Party leader Chris Hani.

The two Swedes have asked ques­tions about a pos­si­ble re­cruit­ing of­fice ap­par­ently set up by Moise Tshombe, pres­i­dent of the break­away Katanga province of the Congo, in the Em­pire Build­ing in down­town Johannesburg in 1961.

The Katanga province, now part of the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of Congo, borders An­gola and Zam­bia.

Ac­cord­ing to their sources, 61 mer­ce­nar­ies were re­cruited and sent to Katanga in the spring of 1961.

“What is in­ter­est­ing is that sev­eral of them seem to have been present at Ndola air­port at the time of the crash. It would be very in­ter­est­ing to talk to peo­ple who have been in con­tact with that of­fice,” said Björk­dahl.

“We hope more de­tails about the SAIMR’s ex­is­tence and its sub­ver­sive ac­tiv­i­ties will come to light dur­ing our in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” added Björk­dahl, who has done ex­ten­sive in­ves­ti­ga­tions in Ndola and its sur­round­ings over the past few years.

In the mid-1980s, the SAIMR placed an ad­ver­tise­ment in the per­sonal col­umns of The Citizen news­pa­per re­cruit­ing mer­ce­nar­ies for an op­er­a­tion else­where in Africa. Ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments later dis­cov­ered, one of those re­cruited was Waluś.

Also piv­otal to the Swedish team’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion are doc­u­ments of the SAIMR’s al­leged Op­er­a­tion Ce­leste, which were leaked ear­lier from the files of the State Se­cu­rity Agency (SSA). Ac­cord­ing to these doc­u­ments, Op­er­a­tion Ce­leste was the plan to kill Ham­marskjöld in a plane crash.

Su­san Wil­liams, a Bri­tish his­tor­i­cal re­searcher who wrote the book Who Killed Ham­marskjöld? The UN, the Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa – pub­lished in 2011 – stum­bled upon the Ce­leste files by chance in the ar­chives of the for­mer Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Agency.

The Ce­leste doc­u­ments were first dis­cov­ered by the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion in 1998.

Go­ing through the clas­si­fied SSA files, Wil­liams came across 12 pages of cor­re­spon­dence marked top se­cret, which re­ferred to “a bizarre but ap­par­ently suc­cess­ful plot to blow up the plane”.

In her book, Wil­liams writes: “The doc­u­ments were headed with the Johannesburg ad­dress of an or­gan­i­sa­tion called the SA In­sti­tute for Mar­itime Re­search (SAIMR). Most were headed ‘Top Se­cret’ and ‘Your Eyes Only’.”

Ac­cord­ing to her, the men re­ferred to in the doc­u­ments as Com­modore, Cap­tain and some­one called Congo Red – an agent on the ground in the Congo – all be­longed to the SAIMR’s Delta Oper­a­tions.

Wil­liams writes that in this set of doc­u­ments, Allen Dulles, the then di­rec­tor of the US Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency, had promised full co­op­er­a­tion with Op­er­a­tion Ce­leste – which had also been agreed with Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence agency MI6.

The doc­u­ments in­di­cated that the rea­son for Ham­marskjöld’s “re­moval” was that he was “be­com­ing trou­ble­some”.

The op­er­a­tion ap­par­ently in­volved the plac­ing of a bomb, made of 3kg of TNT on Ham­marskjöld’s plane from Leopoldville to Ndola. It was to be placed be­neath the un­der­car­riage so it would det­o­nate soon af­ter take-off when the wheels were re­tracted. A ma­jor min­ing con­glom­er­ate was re­ferred to as the source of the TNT and tech­ni­cal equip­ment. But it seems things did not go ex­actly ac­cord­ing to plan.

The down­ing of Ham­marskjöld’s plane is linked to the greater as­sas­si­na­tion of Con­golese in­de­pen­dence leader Pa­trice Lu­mumba, who was also killed in 1961. Re­garded by the West as a threat to sta­bil­ity in the re­gion, Lu­mumba was also seen as a threat to min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties in the Great Lakes re­gion.

“Lu­mumba was a com­mu­nist and Ham­marskjöld a softie,” a source with knowl­edge of the op­er­a­tion told Wil­liams.

Dag Ham­marskjöld

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