Sudan minister among 32 dead in Eid plane crash

A cabinet minister was among 32 politicians, generals and others killed on Sunday when a plane crashed on its way to Sudan's war-torn South Kordofan state for the start of Muslim holidays, state media and an aviation official said.

"All people on board were killed" as the aircraft flew in for a ceremony marking Eid, at the end of the Ramadan fasting month, said Abdelhafiz Abdelrahim, spokesman for the Sudan Aviation Authority.

The most senior official among the dead was Khartoum's Guidance and Endowments Minister Ghazi Al-Saddiq, tasked with religious affairs, the official SUNA news agency said.

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It reported that 26 passengers and six crew were on board.

Speaking on official Radio Omdurman, Culture and Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman said the plane "crashed into a hill" because of bad weather, killing the entire delegation.

Abdelrahim told AFP the Antonov plane was landing at Talodi town at about 8:00 am (0500 GMT) when something suddenly went wrong.

"Before landing, communication with the pilot was normal and the runway clear. Then an explosion was heard and the plane was destroyed," he said.

Accidents are common among Sudan's ageing fleet of aircraft, and Europe bans all Sudanese airlines for safety reasons.

At least 30 people died when a Sudan Airways jet burst into flames on landing in Khartoum in 2008.

Several small airline companies in Sudan use pilots from the former Soviet Union. It was not immediately clear which firm operated Sunday's ill-fated plane.

SUNA did not give the names or nationalities of the six crew who died.

The other victims included two top officials -- Khartoum's state minister for youth and sport, and the state minister of tourism, as well as the education minister for the Khartoum area, SUNA said.

Ten victims, including three generals, were from the security forces, it added.

Also killed was the chief of the small Justice political party, a correspondent for state television, three others identified as "media", the head of Khartoum North municipality, a member of parliament, and other officials.

Although there have been no reports of major fighting around Talodi in recent weeks, the town has been a key battleground in the war which began in June 2011 between the government and ethnic rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N).

Rebel spokesman Arnu Ngutulu Lodi told AFP that his forces had nothing to do with the crash, which happened outside rebel territory.

"It is a government area," he said.

The town, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the disputed border with South Sudan, sits on a partly-forested plain beneath craggy hills.

Heavy rains have been reported in South Kordofan recently.

The dead minister, Saddiq, took on the guidance and endowments portfolio, among whose duties is religious issues, during a July cabinet reshuffle which trimmed the number of ministries.

Prior to the reshuffle he had been minister of tourism and antiquities since December.

The rebels in South Kordofan fought alongside former insurgents now ruling in South Sudan, which became independent in July last year.

Sudan accuses South Sudan of supporting the SPLM-N, a charge which analysts believe despite denials by Juba, which in turn accuses Khartoum of backing rebels south of the border.

Sudanese officials say resolution of the security issue is key to the implementation of an oil deal reached early this month with the Juba government during African Union-led talks.

SPLM-N has been waging a similar conflict since September in Sudan's Blue Nile state.

The UN has expressed concern for months about a worsening humanitarian situation in the war zone, where Khartoum cited security concerns in tightly restricting the operations of foreign aid agencies.

But in early August, Sudan signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations, the African Union and the Arab League to allow for humanitarian access throughout South Kordofan and Blue Nile -- including in rebel-held areas.

There is not yet a start date for the aid operation in a region where the UN says more than 650,000 people have been displaced or severely affected by fighting.

Khartoum has also restricted visits by journalists to the area, although top officials last week promised access for reporters.

by Abdelmoneim Abu Edris Ali © 2012 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Aug 19, 2012