The government of South Sudan accused rebel fighters on Wednesday of shooting down a United Nations helicopter that crashed in the north of the country the day before, a charge that is expected to fuel tensions between the two warring sides.
“It was the rebels that brought it down,” said Defense Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk.
The U.N. has launched an investigation into the crash, but is yet to say what caused it. The helicopter went down outside the northern city of Bentiu on Tuesday afternoon, killing three crew members and seriously wounding a fourth.
The crash—and the questions surrounding it—illustrates the volatile nature of a conflict that has torn apart the world’s youngest nation. Battle lines between the two sides have been constantly shifting, with neither side able to solidify control of strategic towns in oil-rich regions, of which Bentiu is one.
The incident isn’t the first time that outside parties have been caught in the crossfire. When fighting first broke out in South Sudan, a U.S. plane sent to evacuate American citizens came under fire in the town of Bor, which was then under rebel control. Four American service members were wounded, and the aircraft was forced to turn back.
The Russian company that made the MI helicopter, UTair Aviation Co. UTAR.MZ -4.08% UTair Aviation Russia: Moscow RUB16.30 -0.69 -4.08% Aug. 28, 2014 3:33 pm Volume (Delayed 15m) : 23,300 P/E Ratio 20.09 Market Cap RUB9.73 Billion Dividend Yield N/A Rev. per Employee N/A 08/27/14 South Sudan Accuses Rebels of … More quote details and news » UTAR.MZ in Your Value Your Change Short position , claimed that its aircraft was brought down from a weapon fired from the ground. In a statement, UTair said it had based its findings on “preliminary data,” but didn’t elaborate. The company said the surviving crew member was the co-pilot of the craft. The captain, flight engineer and flight attendant were killed.
UTair said helicopter flights to the area around Bentiu have been suspended following the incident.