Saturday, November 28, 2009



Sudan's vice-president Salva Kiir Mayardit and John Garang

By PAUL AMORU, NATION Correspondent
Thursday, November 26 2009

South Sudan President Salva Kiir was on Wednesday held up in Gulu for nearly seven hours after the plane carrying him ruptured a tyre.

The Antonov 74 cargo plane, carrying Mr Kiir and his delegation, was just lifting off the ground at about 9:30 am when it developed a mechanical problem.

Mr Kiir, who is also the first vice president of Sudan, was in Gulu from Tuesday and engaged President Yoweri Museveni in talks over border tensions between Sudan and Uganda.

On Tuesday evening, Mr Museveni and his counterpart travelled to Moyo on the Uganda-Sudan border for bilateral talks and returned to Gulu army barracks where they held a two-hour meeting on Tuesday night.

The flurry of bilateral engagements nearly turned tragic on Wednesday morning when Mr Kiir and his delegation had to be evacuated amidst panic after his pilot fought hard and avoided a crash after detecting technical problems with the wheels and the hydraulic system of the plane.

Gulu Resident District Commissioner Walter Ochora, who later saw off Mr Kiir, ruled out foul play and described the incident as not surprising.

Mr Kiir left at 2.30 pm aboard a Ugandan Airline plane. “A snag in air transport is a very common thing, so I was not surprised that this particular aircraft developed a problem with its wheels and the hydraulic system. I have experienced it many times,” Col Ochora said today.

For some, the incident may have brought back bitter memories of the death of Colonel John Garang, the South Sudan leader who was killed after his helicopter crashed in the Imatong Hills in 2005.

Col Garang had been in Uganda for talks with President Museveni at his Rwakitura home. Investigators found no evidence of foul play in the case.

In yesterday’s incident, the pilot managed to steer the plane away from hitting trees, which averted possible harm to the passengers.

Mr Aziku Zata, the Deputy Northern Regional Police Commander, said the front tyre of the plane ruptured before take-off, causing it to veer dangerously off course.

The Police said no one was injured in the incident and Mr Kiir was evacuated into a waiting car and driven back to Acholi Inn, where he spent the night.

Other senior Sudanese officials who were travelling with Mr Kiir were: Major General Gier Dwang Aluong, who is Minister of Internal Affairs and Lt Gen Clement Wani Konga, the Governor of Central Equatorial State in Southern Sudan.

Until Mr Kiir finally flew out of the Gulu Airfield, a swarm of police, army officers and the Presidential Guard Brigade personnel cordoned off the area. Reporters were not allowed anywhere near the accident scene.