Vol. 4 Num 210 Sun. December 28, 2003  
Front Page

Benin plane crash kills 15 Bangladeshi peacekeepers

Fifteen Bangladeshi army officers on UN peacekeeping missions in Sierra Leone and Liberia were among the 119 people killed in Thursday's plane crash in the West African country of Benin, the army said.

Thirteen of the officers served with Bangladesh Battalion 8 in Sierra Leone since last year and the two others were stationed in Liberia since October-November, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) directorate said.

Those who served at Sierra Leone are Lieutenant Colonel SM Shamshul Arefin, Major Abdur Rahim Mia, Major Mirza Md A Baten, Major Imtiaz Uddin Ahmed, Major Mosharraf Hossain, Captain Arifur Rahman Talukder, Captain Farid Uddin Ahmed, Captain Alauddin Sardar, Captain Rakibul Hasan, Captain Zahidul Islam, Captain Rafiqul Islam, Captain Abdul Mabud and Senior Warrant Officer Shafiqul Islam.

The officers serving in Liberia were Major M Rawnak Akhtar and Major Mustafizur Rahman Chowdhury. Both were initially with a battalion in Sierra Leone since March before the unit was mobilised to Liberia in October-November to serve the peacekeeping mission there.

"They were on vacation and coming home aboard the Boeing 727 via Beirut. From there, they were to fly to Dhaka via Dubai," said Lt Col Nazrul Islam, director of the ISPR directorate, confirming that no other Bangladeshi officers were on that plane.

The officers were scheduled to arrive in Dhaka today.

This is the biggest casualty for Bangladeshi peacekeepers overseas. Accidents and mine explosions have killed 24 other army personnel since 1992.

The news of their death reached the army headquarters in Dhaka Friday night. A Bangladeshi peacekeeping team deployed in Sierra Leone has already left for Benin to identify the dead. Their bodies were being recovered till yesterday.

Operated by Union des Transports Africains (UTA), the Boeing with 151 passengers and 10 crew botched its takeoff and skidded down the runway, smashing into a building before tumbling nose down into the Gulf of Guinea. Aviation officials suggested the plane was overloaded or unbalanced.

Lebanese army divers recovered the final piece of fuselage from the Boeing Friday. Till yesterday, the death toll was estimated at 119, most of them Lebanese expatriates heading home for the holidays. Twenty-two people were injured.

The president, prime minister and chief of army staff expressed condolences at the death and deep sympathy for the bereaved families.

The ISPR requests family members and relatives of the deceased to contact GSO-1, Military Operation Directorate and Army Head-quarters. The contact phone numbers are 011807073, 0171395419, 8829186, 9870011-20 with extensions 2046 and 2056.

In recent past, four army personnel were killed in two road accidents in Sierra Leone -- a corporal died in one accident in February last year and another in March killed three non-commissioned officers. "The death toll in Sierra Leone stood at eight until the plane crash," said Lt Col Nazrul.

Bangladesh, which has the second largest number of UN peacekeepers, now has about 4,500 troops deployed in nine missions in Africa, Asia and Europe.

The army has sent a total of 30,091 troops to 28 missions since 1992.

Lost peacekeepers