Nepal government forms team to probe UN chopper crash

March 5th, 2008 - 2:37 pm ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, March 5 (IANS) As condolence messages began pouring in for the UN chopper crash that killed all passengers and crewmembers on board, Nepal’s government formed a five-member team to probe the cause of the tragedy. Headed by deputy attorney general Drona Raj Regmi, the panel includes two senior army officers and the joint secretary of the culture, tourism and civil aviation ministry.

The investigators have been asked to submit their report within three months.

The UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) that lost seven of its personnel in the crash Monday has said both UNMIN and the makers of the Russian chopper would assist in the inquiry.

The South Korean government said it was sending a fact-finding mission because one of the victims was a South Korean soldier, Lt-Col Park Hyung-jin.

Meanwhile, reports from New York said the UN staff union, which represents over 5,000 staffers at the world body’s headquarters, is asking for a review of UN’s helicopter operations.

UNMIN chief in Nepal, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative Ian Martin, said the confusion over the number of people killed in the crash rose due to the passengers’ list.

Initially, Martin said 12 people were to have boarded the flight from Sindhuli district in eastern Nepal. The UN team had gone there to inspect a Maoist cantonment where guerrillas of the People’s Liberation Army have been barracked since the rebels called a ceasefire two years ago.

However, two of the people named in the original list did not board the flight.

UNMIN confirmed that it had lost three Nepali personnel and four international arms monitors as well as the three crewmembers who were from Russia and Belarus.

Nepal’s home ministry had said Tuesday that 12 bodies had been retrieved from the chopper wreck in Bethan village in mountainous Ramechhap district, creating confusion about the death toll.

The state of the badly mangled and charred bodies made identification near impossible. Bad weather is regarded as the likely cause of the crash.

Nepal Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has expressed sorrow over the tragedy — as have the heads of the EU missions based in Nepal.

The UN secretary general has also issued a statement from New York, saying the men died while serving the UN and the cause of peace in Nepal.

UNMIN was deployed in Nepal last year to help the peace process by supervising the arms and guerrilla army of the Maoists.

It was given a six-month extension in January as the government failed to hold a crucial election in November and deferred it to April 2008.

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