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Thursday, February 12, 1998 Published at 16:53 GMT

World: Africa

Sudanese Vice President killed in plane crash
image: [ The plane crashed some 800 km south of Khartoum ]
The plane crashed some 800 km south of Khartoum

A Sudanese plane carrying senior military and political leaders has crashed in southern Sudan, killing a number of people on board.

Among the dead is the Sudanese Vice-President, Al-Zubair Muhammad Saleh.

Correspondents describe him as a crucial link between the Sudanese army and the National Islamic Front, the dominant political force in the country.

Officials were visiting southern front

[ image: Al-Zubair Muhammad Saleh]
Al-Zubair Muhammad Saleh
The officials were on a visit to the war front in southern Sudan, where government forces are fighting rebels seeking autonomy for the region.

Sudanese television said the plane crashed into a river as it tried to land in bad weather near Malakal, eight hundred kilometres south of Khartoum.

Two government Ministers, including the Information Minister, Brigadier Mohamad Kheir, were among the survivors.

Sudanese radio broadcast a statement by Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir announcing the news.

"The nation lost some of its devoted sons and leaders," the statement said.

"One of those martyred is the honourable person, the dear brother Lt Gen al-Zubair Muhammad Salih, First Vice President."

Death may affect peace accord

A correspondent for the BBC in Khartoum says the vice-president was the driving force in persuading six southern rebel factions to defect to the government side last April, and signed the peace accord on the government's behalf.

One of the rebel signatories, Arok thon Arok, died with him in the crash, as did another leading government official involved in the peace process.

The correspondent says the death of these people, coming just a week after one of the rebel leaders, Cherubino Kwanyin Bol, re-defected to the rebel cause, leaves few surviving signatories of the accord and calls its future into question.

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