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Many senior Lao officials killed in plane crash

Rescue workers search an air force plane crash site in Xieng Khouang province in the north of Laos yesterday. Five senior officials were killed, including Lao Defence Minister Douangchay Phichit.

Rescue workers search an air force plane crash site in Xieng Khouang province in the north of Laos yesterday. Five senior officials were killed, including Lao Defence Minister Douangchay Phichit.

Many senior government officials, including Deputy PM and Defence Minister Douangchay Phichit, were killed when their plane crashed in Xieng Khouang province in the north of Laos early yesterday.

They were flying to attend a commemoration ceremony.

Also killed in the crash were Minister of Public Security Thongbanh Seng-aphone, the Communist Party's propaganda chief Cheuang Sombounkhanh and Vientiane Mayor Soukanh Mahalath.

The Lao Air Force plane, a Russian AN 74TK300, left the capital Vientiane yesterday morning with senior military officers and other government officials. They were heading to Xieng Khouang to attend a ceremony marking the opening of the Lao Army's 2nd Division in the province. There were about 20 people on board, including state officials and members of the crew.

The flight crashed in Nadee village in Xieng Khouang's Peak district at 7am - a kilometre or so from the airport it was heading to, Lao News Agency said, adding that the cause of the crash was being investigated.

Douangchay's wife Thanda Phichit and some of his close aides also died in the accident, though three people, including a flight attendant, reportedly survived, sources in Vientiane said.

Douangchay, 69, was regarded as the second generation of Lao leaders and is believed to have climbed the political ladder quickly following the footsteps of President Choummaly Sayasone. He entered the Politburo, the inner circle of the ruling party, and took the helm of Defence in 2001.

Thailand's Defence Ministry's permanent-secretary Niphat Thonglek yesterday expressed his condolences, saying he had known the late minister for more than 15 years.

Niphat said he was scheduled to meet Doungchay on Monday during an Asean Defence Ministers' meeting in Myanmar. "I will pay my respects and attend his funeral in Laos," he said.

The late Minister of Public Security Thongbanh and Vientiane Mayor Soukanh were also key people in the Lao political leadership, while propaganda chief Cheuang was seen as a rising star in the ruling party.

Mountainous Xieng Khouang province in the North of Laos is a risky area for aviation due to its terrain and weather conditions. The drama follows a plane crash in last October, when a Laos Airlines ATR72 crashed into the Mekong River in Pakse, killing all 44 people on board.






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