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SLUG: 2-314037 U-N/Black Box (L-O)









INTRO: United Nations officials have admitted that an aircraft black box possibly linked to a 1994 plane crash that sparked genocide in Rwanda, has been lying unexamined in a U-N file cabinet. From U-N headquarters, Peter Heinlein reports discovery of the black box reopens a painful chapter in Secretary-General Kofi Annan's past.

TEXT: An embarrassed U-N spokesman Fred Eckhard Thursday acknowledged that the world body has possession of a black box that may have been aboard a plane shot down over Rwanda nearly ten years ago.

Among those on board that plane were the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi. Their deaths were part of a series of events that touched off the mass slaughter of as many as one million ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus by the French-backed government then in power in Rwanda.

Earlier this week, spokesman Eckhard ridiculed suggestions that the black box -- a device aboard aircraft that records flight data, often useful in determining the cause of air crashes -- was in U-N hands. But Thursday, he opened his daily briefing with an apology.


I denied it. In fact, I ridiculed the idea. However, yesterday we were able to trace the paper trail of a black box, sent by pouch from the U-N Mission in Rwanda in 1994, through Nairobi, Kenya to U-N Headquarters in New York. That paper trail took us to the Air Safety Unit of the U-N Peacekeeping Department, located in the UNITAR building across the street. And there, in a locked file cabinet, we found a black box.

///END ACT///

The spokesman said he used the term "a black box" rather than "the black box" because the container was in pristine condition, leading experts to question whether it could have been involved in a plane crash.

He said the box was being sent to outside investigators for inspection.

The discovery of the black box is a further complication to one of Secretary General Kofi Annan's most embarrassing moments. As director of U-N peacekeeping operations in 1994, Mr. Annan was named in a review of the Rwanda genocide as bearing part of the blame. Thursday, the Secretary General said he was surprised to learn that a black box even existed, and more so that it was found at U-N headquarters.


It sounds like a real foul up, a first class foul up. I don't think there has been any attempt to cover up, and our legal office has been cooperating, from what I have gathered, very effectively with the judge. They didn't seem to know about the existence of the black box. I was incredulous when I was told it existed.

///END ACT///

The existence of a black box was revealed earlier this week in an article in the French daily Le Monde. The newspaper reported that a French investigator had faulted the United Nations for failing to open its own probe of the plane crash and covering up the truth.

The investigator was reported to have concluded, after a six-year study, that the plane was shot down on orders of the current Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Mr. Kagame's government has strongly denied the report, calling it "shameful and baseless." Spokesman Eckhard Thursday said the U-N inspector general is being asked to investigate whether the matter had been handled correctly at the time. (Signed)


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