July 26, 2002
The cost of Peacekeeping sometimes takes a strange turn. Two Indian staff officers of the 33-strong UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) contingent, 30 Ugandans and 18 Congolese were killed in the tragic head-on-collision between the bus they were travelling on ran into a tank truck transporting fuel. The tragic 18 July accident, caused by faulty brakes on the tanker, took place on a road in Rutoto (Bushenyi district, south-western Uganda). The truck rolled for at least a mile, gaining speed, until the driver lost control on a sharp turn and the kerosene trailer smashed into the oncoming bus.
The raging fire and subsequent rain delayed the identifying of victims. The death toll of the accident was 59 by the morning of the 19th. Six partial and unidentifiable remains were also removed from the wreckage. Ugandan police quickly arrested the young co-driver/mechanic and were searching for the driver of the fuel truck, who was believed to have escaped into the banana fields near the accident scene. Ironically, the mechanic also escaped.
MOUNC dispatched two special helicopters to take the mortal remains of thetwo Indian army officers, Lieutenant Colonel SNCJ Raja (of the Artillery Regiment) and Grenadiers' Major Sandeep Sharma, where they were to be airlifted to India. A local memorial service was held on 22 July.
MONUC has been deployed across the DRC in accordance to a July 1999 ceasefire agreement to end the DRC's civil war. While authorized 5,537 total uniformed personnel, they currently muster only 3,719, including 449 military observers, 3,256 troops and 14 civilian police (supported by 528 international and 289 local civilian personnel). An Indian Major had been wounded in a 13 May landmine incident, inside the DRC. A total of nine MONUC personnel have been killed: four military and three observers, one international and one local civilian. - Adam Geibel