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Red Cross pilot killed in Sudan

Sudanese rebels have denied involvement in the attack

The Danish co-pilot of a plane, chartered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), has been killed after his aircraft came under fire over southern Sudan.

Ole Friis Eriksen, 26, who came from Copenhagen, died instantly from a severe head injury following an explosion next to the cockpit.

The pilot, who was not injured, managed to land the damaged aircraft at Lokichokio, in northwestern Kenya.

The killing comes less than two weeks after six aid workers for the ICRC were shot and hacked to death near the town of Bunia, in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

An ICRC spokesman in Geneva, Michael Kleiner said: “The plane was halfway between Lokichokio and Juba (Sudan) when it had an air pressure problem in the cabin. The plane dropped to 6,500 feet for one minute and then went back to 8,500 feet.

“When it came back to 8,500 feet there was an explosion heard by the pilot and the co-pilot died instantly. There were two impacts, one where the co-pilot was sitting and one under the right wing.”

“It’s a shock and comes very fast after we had to digest what happened in Bunia. It’s a bit too much,” he added.

The ICRC said the twin-engine, turbo-prop aircraft was clearly marked with Red Cross insignia and was carrying no passengers at the time of the incident.

It had been on a scheduled weekly flight from Lokichokio, the base for most relief operations in Sudan, to the country’s capital, Sudan. The organisation said it was suspending flights to southern Sudan.

Sudan’s southern-based rebels, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, denied any responsibility for the attack and pointed the finger at government-backed militia operating in the area.

The SPLA has been engaged in a civil war with government forces in southern Sudan since 1983.

Spokesman Samson Kwaje said: “We don’t take any responsibility over this. We have a very cordial relationship with the ICRC. Normally when they go to our area they ask for clearance, which we always give. I’m surprised that this incident has happened.”

However the Sudanese minister of state for foreign affairs, Shoul Deng, insisted rebel groups were to blame. “Government troops’ presence in this area is limited … and there is no reason for government forces to open fire on a Red Cross lpane,” he said.

The Red Cross provides medical care to war victims and regularly evacuates war wounded from southern Sudan to a 560-bed field hospital in Lokichokio.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR