Sudanese military helicopter crashes as tensions rise with Ethiopia

Sudan’s foreign ministry said Wednesday that an Ethiopian aircraft has violated the country’s airspace.
Wednesday 13/01/2021
President of the Sudanese Transitional Council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (R), attends an army exercise on the outskirts of Khartoum on October 30, 2019. (AFP)
President of the Sudanese Transitional Council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (R), attends an army exercise on the outskirts of Khartoum on October 30, 2019. (AFP)

KHARTOUM - A Sudanese military helicopter loaded with weapons and ammunition crashed Wednesday on the border with Ethipia as tensions continued to rise dangerously between the two countries.

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.

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 neighbouring 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.

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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.

— Disputed region —

Wednesday’s crash came as Sudanese General Abdel Fattah al-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 encourage 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.”

Ethiopia also warned Sudan on Tuesday it was running out of patience with its neighbour’s continued military build-up in a disputed border area despite attempts to defuse tensions with diplomacy.

The decades-old dispute over al-Fashqa erupted into weeks of clashes between forces from both sides late last year.

“The Sudanese side seems to be pushing in so as to inflame the situation on the ground,” Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti told reporters. “Is Ethiopia going to start a war? Well, we are saying let’s work on diplomacy.”

“How long will Ethiopia continue to resolve the issue using diplomacy? Well, there is nothing that has no limit. Everything has a limit,” he told a briefing in Addis Ababa.

Al-Fashaqa region — which has seen sporadic clashes over the years — borders Ethiopia’s troubled Tigray region where deadly conflict erupted in November between Ethiopia’s federal and Tigray’s regional forces.