MI5 and CIA accused over death of UN chief

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The Independent Online
BRITISH, South African and US agents have been implicated in the death in 1961 of the United Nations secretary-general, Dag Hammarskjold, in letters presented to South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chairman of the TRC, which is charged with exposing apartheid-era atrocities, yesterday said the letters were only recently uncovered and their veracity had not been determined. Suspicion has always hung over the death of Hammarskjold, killed with 15 others when their plane exploded just before landing in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. He had been trying to mediate between the Congo and the breakaway province of Katanga. Independent commissions set up by Sweden, the US and Northern Rhodesia concluded pilot error was probably to blame.

The TRC found eight letters implicating the agents during investigations into another matter. They are in the hands of President Nelson Mandela and the Justice Minister, Dullah Omar, who will decide what should be done with them.

The letters, marked Top Secret, describe meetings between the CIA, MI5 and the South African Institute for Maritime Research (SAIMR). Archbishop Tutu said the latter was believed to be a front company. The correspondence is between two SAIMR employees who sign themselves Captain and Commodore. It outlines a mission dubbed Operation Celeste to kill Hammarskjold. One letter says: "It is felt Hammarskjold should be removed." It also details an alleged meeting between British spies and SAIMR employees. The undated letter says: "Allen Dulles [CIA head] agrees and has promised full co- operation from his people." According to the letters, TNT was to be planted in the plane's wheel bay. It was expected to explode as the wheels retracted on take-off but after that failed to happen the bomb may have detonated as the plane came down. No motive for the alleged assassination plot is mentioned.

Archbishop Tutu said that while the letters' veracity was not established, they were being released to maintain the TRC's transparency.

Theories about Hammarskjold's death emerged days after the crash. Newspapers said Britain was supporting the rebel leader, Moise Tshombe, and opposed UN policy on Katanga. In 1992, ex-UN officials said mercenaries hired by Belgian, US and British mining companies shot down the plane, as they believed their businesses would be hurt by Hammarskjold's peace efforts.

Last night the Foreign Office said: "Intelligence agents of the United Kingdom do not go around bumping people off. At this time ... Soviet misinformation was quite rampant, so (the letters) may have been put out by them."

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