U.N. helicopter crashes in South Sudan; possibly shot down

South Sudanese soldiers secure a road near Juba's airport on August 26, 2014. SAMIR BOL/AFP/Getty Images

NAIROBI, Kenya - The U.N. mission in South Sudan says one of its helicopters has crashed, and a U.N. official told The Associated Press that it appears the aircraft was shot down.

The U.N. mission said on Twitter that an Mi-18 cargo helicopter crashed Tuesday near Bentiu, which is hotly contested between the government and rebels. The U.N. said it is deeply concerned about the fate of its crew. A search and rescue team has been sent to the crash site.

The U.N. official, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said contact with the helicopter was lost at about 3:19 p.m. and that it was apparently shot down near Bentiu.

South Sudan has seen widespread massive violence between rebels and the national army since December.

In December, another U.N. helicopter was shot down.

The next day, gunfire hit three U.S. military aircraft trying to evacuate American citizens in a remote region of South Sudan that was also hotly contested. Four U.S. servicemembers were wounded in the attack.

On Monday, an East African regional bloc said one of its officials monitoring a cease-fire in South Sudan died while being held by rebel fighters.

The regional bloc, IGAD, said the monitors had landed in Unity state Sunday for a routine inspection mission before being arrested. Seyoum Mesfin, the chair of the IGAD team, said those responsible for the death "will bear consequences." But a security report about the incident seen by The Associated Press said the death - of a man representing South Sudan's government - was from natural causes.

Rebels loyal to South Sudan's former vice president have been fighting government forces since December. Thousands of people have been killed in the fighting and more than 1 million have fled their homes. The country also faces a mass hunger crisis.

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