Sudan's First Vice President killed in plane crash
KHARTOUM, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Sudan's first vice president and at least seven others were killed when their plane overshot a small runway in heavy fog and plunged into a river in southern Sudan on Thursday, official media said.
The Sudan news agency SUNA said First Vice-President Lieutenant-General Al-Zubeir Mohammad Saleh and at least seven guards and officials were killed in the accident in Nasir, about 700 km (435 miles) south of Khartoum near the Ethiopian border.
Official media said the Antonov military plane missed the start of the runway when trying to land and plunged into the river Sobat, where it sank. Many passengers are still missing.
The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) said Saleh's plane was shot down by its rebels.
''It was not a crash,'' Justin Yaac, spokesman for the SPLA's political wing, told Reuters in Nairobi. ''The plane was on its way to Juba (southern Sudan) and when it was in an area we control we shot it down.''
The claim could not be independently confirmed.
Arok Thon Arok, a former Independent Group rebel leader who was one of the signatories of a Khartoum peace agreement in 1997, also died.
Initial reports on SUNA had said that both Information Minister Brigadier Al-Tayeb Ibrahim Mohamed Khair and Animal Resources Minister Musa Mek Kur survived.
It later said that it could not confirm Kur's condition.
The bodies of some of those who were killed were flown back to Khartoum airport late on Thursday and loaded onto pick up trucks, witnesses said.
Mourners followed the bodies, shouting ''He is our martyr.''
Men in white robes and turbans flocked to a city park after news of the crash and speakers rallied the crowd in mass condolences.
Waving their fists or staffs in the air, the crowd shouted ''Allahu Akbar'' (God is Greatest).
Women in colourful robes held their hands up to the sky.
''Saleh went to his God, to whom we all will return,'' said one speaker on the platform.
State television showed footage of the tall, striking Saleh in camouflage uniform inspecting the army or in traditional robe and turban.
''A million martyrs to unite Sudan!'' it showed him saying at a rally.
The SPLA has been fighting since 1983 for autonomy for the mainly black, Christian and animist south from the Arabised, Moslem north.
It has stepped up its insurgency in south Sudan recently and is currently involved in fighting for Wau, the south's second-biggest city, around 600 km (375 miles) east of Nasir.
Yaac told Reuters in Nairobi that he was awaiting details. ''At the moment I only have confirmation of the shooting, I am still waiting for details of the numbers and other details.''
There was no immediate reaction from the Sudan government.
Nasir is controlled by Riek Machar, one of the former rebels who allied with the government when he signed the peace deal.
Hundreds flocked to the presidential palace overlooking the Nile river and waited in snaking queues to pay condolences to Sudan's President Lieutenant-General Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who received them with a sombre handshake.
Sudan state television played readings from the Moslem holy book, the Koran, after the announcement of the crash.
Sudan newspapers had reported recently that Saleh was inspecting rebel defectors this week throughout the country.
A resident said the officials would be buried on Friday.
13 February 1998