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Report on downing of planes questioned

Published Mar 16, 2000

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New York - A new United Nations sanctions report repeated claims from Angolan defectors that two UN planes were shot down by shoulder-propelled missile launchers in Angola, a finding questioned by aviation experts.

The downing of the two aircraft, presumably by Angola's rebel Unita movement, killed all 23 people aboard. One C-130 transport plane was shot down on December 26, 1998, and the second C-130 crashed on January 2, 1999.

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Preliminary findings by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) said the first plane was flying beyond the range of a shoulder-launched missile and that the second plane was brought down by anti-aircraft guns, according diplomats attending a February 24 briefing.

The issue of how the planes were shot down became relevant on Wednesday when the report by the Security Council's Angola sanctions committee again contained testimony on the aircraft from the defectors.

Their claims were first shown in videotaped interviews on January 18 by Canadian ambassador Robert Fowler, chairperson of the committee.

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Several African ambassadors during a heated Security Council debate questioned the credibility of Unita deserters as a source for charges their countries had engaged in arms, fuel or diamond-trafficking in violation of UN sanctions imposed against the rebels in 1993 and 1998.

Lieutenant Colonel Jose Antonio Gil, a former director of the control tower at Andulo airport, then used by Unita, said the two planes had been shot down by IGLA surface-

to-air anti-aircraft missiles on orders from Unita leader Jonas Savimbi.

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The IGLA is a shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile, the Russian equivalent of the US Stinger missile.

Asked about the discrepancy, Fowler told a news conference on Wednesday the ICAO report was far from being completed and that UN officials investigating the crash site were primarily interested in retrieving bodies of the victims.

"No one has ever told me how high either of these aircraft was flying when they were hit and I don't think anyone knows that," Fowler said.

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"I heard too that there were holes in the tail. I don't know who knows what it is a hole by a cannon shell and what is a hole by an exploding warhead," he added.

But Fowler said the independent panel that wrote the report he organised had to include evidence on the crash.

"I think it is clear that those crash sites, now pretty old, need a lot more investigation," Fowler said.

The rebels have waged war against the government in Luanda for 25 years, since Angola's independence from Portugal. Fowler said he has given copies of the videotape to the UN's top security officials. - Reuters

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