THE BLOG

How I Discovered My Old Friend May Have Been a Hired Killer

03/18/2014 12:49 EDT | Updated 05/18/2014 05:59 EDT

Part 1

It's not every day that you wake up to discover that your old friend might have murdered the prime minister of Sweden.

And it's not every day that you learn that the same old friend might also have bombed the Stockholm and London offices of the African National Congress (ANC).

And that he might also -- on orders from the apartheid regime in South Africa -- have tried to assassinate the great ANC leader, Oliver Tambo.

But that's what's just happened.

Here's how.

I'm enjoying my morning cup of tea recently when a story in the Globe and Mail (Hunt for Swedish PM killer takes Stieg Larsson twist) catches my attention.

"Two of the darker sides of Swedish society intersected Tuesday with the revelation that late crime novelist Stieg Larsson once sent police 15 boxes of evidence linking the unsolved murder of a former prime minister to a cabal of South African hitmen and a right-wing Swede living in the breakaway Turkish part of Cyprus."

The former prime minister is Olof Palme -- who loathed South Africa's apartheid system and was a strong supporter of the ANC -- assassinated in Stockholm 28 years ago.

The "right-wing Swede living in the breakaway Turkish part of Cyprus" is my old friend Bertil Wedin who does indeed live in Kyrenia, in the Turkish part of Cyprus. I know, because he's twice invited me to visit him there.

Bertil Wedin and I go back a long way.

We meet in 1963 in Élisabethville (now Lubumbashi), capital of the Congolese breakaway province of Katanga. He wears a Swedish military uniform and the blue beret of the United Nations which is tasked with ending Katanga's secession from the Congo.

He's around my age, speaks excellent English, is tough, dogmatic, disciplined, very conservative and very military. He has the manner of a soldier who prides himself on following orders and is confident he'll win whatever battles he gets into.

I'm all of 25-years-old, in the Congo to cover the wars for United Press International.

Over many bottles of the excellent local Simba beer, the conservative Swedish soldier and the liberal English journalist do some serious disagreeing over the rights and wrongs of the U.N. intervention in the Congo and much else. Particularly the brutal, racist apartheid system in South Africa. But otherwise, we get along fine.

Then one day Wedin casually asks if I'd like to join a small U.N. reconnaissance group flying to a small town named Kasenga, in the bush some 225 miles to the north, to check on a Katangese rebel force which might or might not be advancing on Élisabethville.

No journalist can ever resist such an offer.

So, one brutally hot morning, a battered U.N. de Havilland Otter takes off from Élisabethville airport and heads for Kasenga.

Officer in charge of the reconnaissance is Wedin's boss, Major Hugo Munthe-Kaas, the U.N.'s Chief of Military Intelligence in Katanga -- its chief spy. He's also Norway's most decorated soldier and a famous World War ll hero.

Even in the Congo heat, the major wears full Norwegian Army uniform with jacket and tie. His chest is a rainbow of military decorations. He's blond, burly and by all accounts, very, very tough.

Flying with him are Warrant Officer Wedin, who carries what turns out to be our only weapon, a 9mm Husqvarna pistol, in a holster at his waist. Then there's my fixer, photographer and translator Roger Asnong, a couple of Swedish U.N. pilots, and me.

The Otter bounces down on a rough grass airstrip just outside Kasenga. From there to the Territorial Commissioner's office. The major politely asks the Commissioner -- who's so nervous he can hardly speak -- if he knows of any rebels in the area.

That's when the gunfire starts.

I run to a window. Rebel soldiers crammed into pick-up trucks, circle the building, fire machine guns in our general direction, scream at us to come out of the building and surrender.

Bertil Wedin draws his pistol.

Tim Knight is a Toronto communications consultant and coach. Parts of this column are adapted from his book, Storytelling and the Anima Factor, now in its second edition.

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