Plane goes down in southern Sudan, killing vice president

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — A plane carrying military and political leaders crashed in rebellious southern Sudan on Thursday, killing the country’s vice president and at least eight others, the government said.
The government blamed the crash on fog and strong winds, denying a rebel movement’s reported claim that its fighters had shot down the plane.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Army made the claim in a statement from its Nairobi office, the BBC said.
Neither side’s claim could be independently verified.
According to the government, the military plane crashed on landing in the city of al-Nasir, then skidded off a runway and into the Sobat River, a tributary of the Nile.
There were 57 passengers aboard, the government said. Information Minister Ibrahim Mohamed Kheir, who was on the plane, told a crowd that gathered outside the presidential palace in Khartoum after the crash that most of the victims drowned.
“As a result a number of the cream of the leadership of the nation have been martyred,” a government statement said.
Among those killed was Maj. Gen. Zubair Mohamed Saleh, the first vice president and a prominent Islamic leader.
The plane went down near the Ethiopian border in al-Nasir, about 500 miles south of the capital.
The officials were on a two-day visit to southern Sudan, where animist and Christian rebels have fought a 15-year insurgency for autonomy from the Arab, Muslim-dominated government in the north.
More than 1 million people have died in the fighting and in famines caused by the war.
Rebels have made steady gains in southern Sudan this year, and now control more land than at any point in their insurgency.