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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
Tunisian army chief dies in air crash
Thirteen Tunisian military officers, including the army chief of staff Brigadier General Abdelaziz Skik, have been killed in a helicopter crash, reports say.

The accident happened at Medjez el Bab, 60 kilometres (40 miles) west of the capital Tunis on Tuesday.

The army officers were on their way back to Tunis from a surveillance mission in the Kef region near the Algerian border.

Officials said they suspected mechanical failure as the possible cause of the crash as there had been no reports of bad weather.

However, the authorities, which announced the crash on Tuesday night without giving any details, said on Wednesday they were launching an investigation.

They have described the crash as the worst air accident in Tunisia since independence from France 46 years ago.

President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has expressed his "deep sorrow" at the incident and offered his condolences to the families of the victims.

Recently promoted

According to a full list obtained by Reuters news agency, five colonels, four majors, two lieutenants and a warrant officer first class were also on board the aircraft.

Skik, in his 60s, was named to the top army post about five months ago after a long career with Tunisia's armed forces.

Among other assignments, he led a Tunisian contingent to Cambodia in 1992, as part of the United Nations mission which monitored the post-Khmer Rouge general elections there.

An important military base is situated in the Kef region, near the border with Algeria.

The area is under the strict control of the army, which, with the Algerian military, carries out continuous patrols searching for Islamic militants waging civil war in Algeria.

See also:

23 Apr 02 | Middle East
Man arrested for Tunisia blast
30 Apr 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Tunisia synagogue festival
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