Capetown: Documents the Truth Commission stumbled across linking South African agents to the airline death of UN chief Dag Hammarskjöld, also reveal that the project was hatched at the highest levels of the CIA and MI5.
The alleged plot to assassinate United Nations secretary general Dag Hammarskjöld 37 years ago was the brainchild of at least two British security agencies — MI5 and the Special Operations Executive — and the CIA, top-secret documents show.
For once, apartheid's dirty tricks brigade appears to have been falsely accused of involvement in the murder.
A series of messages between a commodore and a captain, whose names have been expunged by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, point to a plot hatched on South African soil by a group which had access to vast amounts of money and the ability to muster mercenary forces to protect international investment in turbulent post-colonial Africa.
The messages, all on letterheads of the South Africa Institute for Maritime Research (SAIMR), cover the period from July 1960 to September 17 1961 — the day on which Hammarskjöld's aircraft crashed while approaching the airport at Ndola in the then Northern Rhodesia.
In addition to outlining Operation Celeste — the plan to get rid of the "troublesome" Hammarskjöld — the documents implicate the SAIMR and international intelligence agencies in the death of Patrice Lumumba, the pro-communist first president of the Congo. Lumumba was deposed in September 1960 and allegedly shot while escaping from custody in the breakaway province of Katanga in 1961.
The documents, found by a truth commission researcher investigating an apparently unrelated matter, implicate then CIA chief Allen Dulles in Operation Celeste. They also claim that the explosives used for the bomb that downed the aircraft were supplied by a Belgian mining conglomerate, Union Miniere. The company had extensive interests in copper-rich Katanga, and is known to have backed to Tshombe's use of mercenaries, including the group led by South Africa's Colonel "Mad Mike" Hoare.
The most damning report refers to a meeting between MI5, Special Operations Executive, the CIA and the SAIMR at which it was recorded that Dulles "agrees ... Dag is becoming troublesome and ... should be removed". According to the documents, Dulles "has promised full co-operation from his people ... Dag will be in Leopoldville on or about 12/9/61. The aircraft ferrying him will be a DC6 in the livery of [Swedish company] Transair."
The captain is ordered to "see that Leo airport [Leopoldville, now Kinshasa] as well as Elizabethville [now Lubumbashi] is covered by your people, as I want his removal to be handled more efficiently than was Patrice [Lumumba]".
The first message is dated July 12 1960, less than two weeks after the Congo became independent: “Head office is rather concerned with developments in the Congo, particularly the Haute Katanga, where it appears the local strongman Moise Tshombe, supported by Union Miniere, is planning a secession." The writer claims to "have it on good authority that the UNO [United Nations Organisation] will want to get its greedy paws on the province”. He says he has been instructed to ask the captain "to send as many agents as you think would be needed to bolster Congo Red's unit in case of future problems".
Civil war broke out in the Congo four days after independence, and Tshombe announced Katanga's secession on July 11. The commodore records this in his next message, sent on July 15, the day UN troops arrived at Lumumba's request.
The next orders inform the captain: "Your contact with CIA is Dwight.
He will be residing at Hotel Leopold II in Elizabethville from now until
November 1 1961. The password is: ‘How is Celeste these days?' His response
should be: 'She's recovering nicely apart from the cough.'"
Hammarskjöld's death appears to have been part of an attempt to prevent Katanga's mineral wealth from falling under communist control.
On September 14 1961, a message couriered to the SAIMR's offices in De Villiers Street, Johannesburg, recorded: "DC6 aircraft bearing Transair livery is parked at Leo to be used for transport of subject. Our technician has orders to plant 6lb TNT in the wheelbay with contact detonator to activate as wheels are retracted on taking off."
An earlier message records that "Union Miniere has offered to provide logistic or other support. We have told them to have 6lb of TNT at all possible locations with detonators, electrical contacts and wiring, batteries, etc."
A report dated September 17 records: "Device failed on take-off, and the aircraft crashed a few hours later as it prepared to land." An official inquiry blamed pilot error.
The documents have been dismissed as fakes by a former Swedish diplomat, and both MI5 and the CIA have denied any involvement in Hammarskjöld's death. However, they bear a striking resemblance to other documents emanating from the SAIMR seven years ago, when it was headed by self-styled commodore Keith Maxwell-Annandale and forged links with both South Africa's military intelligence and the National Intelligence Services. These documents show the SAIMR masterminded the abortive 1981 attempt to depose Seychelles president Albert René. It was also behind a successful 1990 coup in Somalia.
Source : Electronic Mail&Guardian, August 28, 1998. http://www.mg.co.za/mg/news/