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New inquiry into death of UN's Dag Hammarskjold

A group of international jurists has been commissioned to reinvestigate the 1961 death of U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, one of the Cold War's most enduring mysteries.

A statement released Wednesday by a committee of former officials and academics said the team would reexamine the case with an eye toward trying to getting an answer to the question of what happened to Hammarskjold, whose death cut short the career of a man many consider the U.N.'s most effective leader.

British lawmaker and former trade unionist David Lea, the committee's chair, said in a statement that "the whole truth, in significant respects, has yet to be told."

Hammarskjold's plane went down over the thick forests of Northern Rhodesia, now known as Zambia, on the night of Sept. 17, 1961. Hammarskjold was one of 15 people to die as a result of the crash.

Hammarskjold had been in the midst of negotiating an agreement to end the deadly fighting between the government of Congo and its independence-minded, mineral-rich province of Katanga — a deadly struggle shot through with post-colonial intrigue and Cold War rivalries. Three investigations failed to determine the cause of the crash, leaving his fate clouded by conspiracy theory. Some claim the Americans had Hammarskjold killed. Others believe that mercenaries backed by Western business interests were responsible. Other theories pointed the finger at the Soviets, who accused Hammarskjold of complicity in the execution of Moscow-backed Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba. A more recent, less sinister hypothesis blamed pilot fatigue.

Lea — who was joined on the committee by Henning Melber, the executive director of the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, and Nigeria's Emeka Anyaoku, the former Commonwealth secretary-general — said that more evidence was still spilling into the public domain. In particular, he cited the 2011 book, "Who Killed Hammarskjold?" by fellow committee member Susan Williams, whose work alleges that the U.N. leader's death was deliberate and that damning evidence was covered up.

The new inquiry has no official standing but includes several high-profile jurists, including South African Justice Richard Goldstone, who led the U.N. fact-finding mission on the conflict in the Gaza Strip. The remaining members are retired British Lord Justice Stephen Sedley, former Swedish diplomat Hans Correll, and Wilhelmina Thomassen, a Dutch Supreme Court judge.

The inquiry hopes to complete its report within a year and submit its findings to the U.N.

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Online:

The United Nations' Dag Hammarskjold website: http://www.un.org/Depts/dhl/dag/index.html