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Military helicopter crashes in Darfur, five dead: army

by Staff Writers
Khartoum (AFP) April 18, 2011
A Sudanese army helicopter crashed on Monday in North Darfur, killing all five people on board, an army spokesman said, in the second such accident in less than a week.

"The helicopter, trying to land at El-Fasher airport experienced a technical problem and crashed," Sawarmi Khaled Saad told AFP.

"The aircraft was completely destroyed and all five people on board were killed. Three of them were crew and two were passengers. They were all in the army," Sawarmi added.

The crew members were all officers while the passengers were ordinary soldiers, according to official Sudanese media.

The aircraft had just completed a regular flight around the state capital of North Darfur when it went down, the spokesman said.

But a military source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Russian-built Mi17 aircraft crashed three kilometres (two miles) from El-Fasher airport, without giving a reason.

The accident occurred just five days after an Mi24 army training helicopter attempting to take off from the military airport in Khartoum veered off the runway and crashed, when its engine caught fire.

One of the three crew members was killed and the other two injured.

Sudan's military forces suffer from limited and outdated equipment, and plane crashes are common.

Another army aircraft went down as recently as December, during night-time training operations in Red Sea state, although both the crew survived.

Ten years ago, Sudan's deputy defence minister and 13 high-ranking military officers were killed in a plane crash on their return to Khartoum from oil-rich Upper Nile state, which now belongs to the soon-to-be-independent south.

Sudan began exporting oil in 1999, and its hydrocarbons revenues have enabled the government to purchase modern military hardware, including Hind helicopter gunships, Antonov bombers and MiG-23 fighter planes, mostly from China and Russia.

But the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo in 2004, after fighting erupted between Darfur rebels and government forces a year earlier.

Following a relative lull in the Darfur conflict, there has been an upsurge in fighting there since December, including heavy clashes last Tuesday between the army and the three main rebel groups, in a remote region of North Darfur.

In addition to the string of plane crashes, Sudan's inferior military technology was exposed earlier this month, by a surprise attack on a car 15 kilometres (9 miles) south of Port Sudan, thought to have been carried out by Israel.

Two AH-64 Apache helicopters were able to fly in from the Red Sea, on April 5, and unleash a barrage of Hellfire missiles and machine-gun fire on their target after jamming the local radar system, the foreign ministry said.

The United States suspended all military assistance to Sudan after the Islamist-backed military coup in 1989 that brought President Omar al-Bashir to power.

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