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Sudan military helicopter crashes near Ethiopian border

By SAMY MAGDY | Associated Press | Published: January 13, 2021

CAIRO — A Sudanese military helicopter loaded with weapons and ammunition crashed Wednesday, shortly after taking off from an airport in an eastern province bordering Ethiopia, officials said.

The Apache attack helicopter burst into flames after crashing at Wad Zayed airport in the town of al-Showak in al-Qadarif province, but the three-person crew survived the crash, the Sudanese officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

The cause of the crash was not immediately clear.

In the past two months, Sudan's military has deployed troops to the border areas with Ethiopia and said it has reclaimed territories controlled by Ethiopian militias and farmers for many years.

Ethiopian and allied regional forces have been fighting local forces in the Tigray region early November and attacks over the border into Sudan last month have strained ties between the neighboring countries. The Tigray fighting has sent over 60,000 Ethiopian refugees into Sudan, mostly into al-Qadarif.

At least five Sudanese women and a child were killed in an attack Monday inside Sudan by Ethiopian militias, the Sudanese foreign ministry said.

Sudan's state-run SUNA news agency reported that the helicopter crashed directly after taking off. Aircraft crashes are not uncommon in Sudan, which has a poor aviation safety record.

In January last year, a military plane, a Russian Antonov An-12, crashed in the restive West Darfur region, killing all 16 people on board, including two women and two children.

In 2003, a civilian Sudan Airways plane crashed into a hillside while trying to make an emergency landing, killing 116 people, including eight foreigners. Only a small boy survived the crash.

Wednesday's crash came as Sudanese Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan was in al-Qadarif to inspect troops stationed in the border areas, the military said. The visit underscores heightened tensions on the border, after the latest round of talks in Khartoum failed to achieve a breakthrough in the dispute.

Both countries have held talks recently to courage Ethiopian farmers to withdraw from Sudan's al-Fashqa border area, where they have farmed for years.

Separately, Sudan's foreign ministry said Wednesday that an Ethiopian aircraft has violated the country's airspace. The ministry called it a "serious and unjustified escalation" that could further strain ties with Ethiopia, warning of "grave consequences" and urging Addis Ababa to "stop such hostile activities."

There was no immediate comment from Ethiopia.

On Tuesday, the spokesman of Ethiopia's foreign ministry Dina Mufti told reporters that Addis Ababa was not looking to engage in fighting with Sudan and "get into a war."

"You do not immediately punch someone's nose who punched you the same, but you may cut his head another time," Mufti said.