New evidence points to UN 'cover-up' in Congo


NEW EVIDENCE of a United Nations “cover-up” into the events surrounding its controversial peacekeeping operation in the Congo 50 years ago has come to light.

Documents from the UN’s archive in New York show that a notorious offensive in September 1961 in the breakaway province of Katanga was sanctioned at the highest level, according to historian Dr Michael Kennedy, who is researching the issue with retired Irish soldiers who served in the conflict.

The UN has long blamed the ill-fated Operation Morthor on its then special representative in Katanga, Conor Cruise O’Brien, and his role in the affair forced him out of the organisation.

The files “suggest O’Brien came up with the idea”, said Dr Kennedy, noting that the former Irish diplomat – in his memoir To Katanga and Back – tried to manipulate the trail of evidence to play down his role.

However, a recently uncovered telegram shows the then UN secretary general, Dag Hammarskjöld, “authorised him to follow the policy”, and this “fits into a train of documents”, said Dr Kennedy, which indicate the UN “did try to cover up what happened”.

A major factor was Hammarskjöld’s death in an air crash two days after the operation. “His reputation becomes sacrosanct for his supporters,” Dr Kennedy noted.

The Royal Irish Academy historian is writing a book on the UN’s involvement in the Congo with a veteran of the Irish 35th Battalion, Comdt Art Magennis (93), who has given evidence of atrocities carried out by fellow UN troops from India.

The pair – whose revelations will feature on The History Show on RTÉ Radio One tomorrow – are looking for more veterans to come forward to explain what happened at Katanga, which became a byword for UN over-ambition in the same way Srebrenica and Mogadishu would 30 years later.

“When it all went wrong, Hammarskjöld drew back and his supporters since said O’Brien operated on his own bat, that it was his operation – he knew what was happening on the ground – and Hammarskjöld was whiter than white.

“I think the documents show the UN is as Machiavellian as any political body can be. Hammarskjöld knew how to play things. It was characteristic that he gave people the authorisation to go ahead.”

Dr Kennedy noted the Irish troops acquitted themselves remarkably well, given they “went out prepared for a peacekeeping operation” and were then ordered to go on the offensive with no air cover, no armoured vehicles and no heavy machine guns.

Of the alleged atrocities, he said, there was no documentary evidence in the UN archives. “The only people who saw it happen were the Indians and the Irish . . . There was an attitude you keep your mouth shut.”