- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 30, 2004

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone - The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone grounded some heli-copters yesterday, police said, a day after a craft carrying its personnel crashed, killing 24 peacekeepers, aid workers and others killed in the accident.

A radio channel for the 10,800-strong U.N. peace mission in Sierra Leone broadcast hymns and phoned-in expressions of sorrow for the victims, who died Tuesday when their U.N.-chartered Mi-8 slammed into a remote hill in the east.

The victims included 14 Pakistani peacekeepers, one Bangladeshi peacekeeper, three Russian crew and six civilians, including one local U.N. staffer, said Marie Okabe, a spokeswoman at U.N. headquarters in New York.

Recovery teams brought the burned bodies yesterday to a Pakistani-manned U.N. base in Koidu, near the crash site. The remains of all 24 persons were to be transferred later to Freetown, the capital, U.N. spokeswoman Sheila Dallas said.

A police official said the U.N. mission had ordered all other Mi-8s grounded in Sierra Leone pending results of an investigation into the cause of the accident. It was not known how many aircraft were affected.

The United Nations has other makes of helicopters available here, but no helicopters — the main means of transportation across the country, where roads are few — could be heard or seen flying by midafternoon.

In 2001, another Mi-8 used by the United Nations crashed in Sierra Leone, killing eight persons.

President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah said he “extends deepest sympathy and condolences” to the U.N. mission and “the bereaved families of the peacekeepers, Sierra Leoneans and other civilian nationals.”

The United Nations undertook its mission in Sierra Leone — at its peak of 17,500 personnel, the largest U.N. deployment ever — to oversee the peace agreement that followed a 1991-2002 civil war.

Sierra Leone’s war pitted government forces against an insurgency fighting to gain control of the government and of diamond fields. Forceful military intervention by neighboring Guinea, Britain and the United Nations helped crush the rebels by 2002.

Until Tuesday, 137 U.N. personnel had died in Sierra Leone, including many killed in attacks during fighting.

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