New Democrat (Monrovia)

Liberia Mourns - Guinea's Tragic Crash

A Guinean military plane bringing a defence military delegation to this year's Armed Forces Day celebration crashed near Liberia's main airport yesterday, killing all occupants, including the country's defence chief on board.

Initial accounts of the death toll put the number at 10, but our reporter who travelled to the crashed scene in Charlesville, about 25 miles southeast of Monrovia, quoted eye witnesses as saying that they saw 11 bodies taken out of the wreckage of the plane to Monrovia.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known, but witnesses told our reporter that a technical problem might have developed in one wing of the place as they heard screams of people on board calling for help. "Someone help, we are dying! We need help!" one eyewitness quoted the occupants as saying when the plane was falling down.

Our reporter also said security forces, backed by the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), have cordoned off the entire area of the crash.

The Guinean military officials and staff were was expected to join their counterpart delegations from Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Cote D'Ivoire sent by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to grace the annual Armed Forces Day celebrations in Monrovia.

Speaking at the ceremony yesterday, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared today as a working holiday in Liberia in memory of the death of the Guinean army staff that was on their way to the ceremony, describing the incident as tragic and extending Liberian government's sympathy to the President and people of Guinea.

Reports from Guinea quoted the country's military spokesman Alpha Barry as saying that the armed forces head Gen Souleymane Kelefa Diallo and other senior military officials from the West African state were killed.

Mr Abdoulaye Dore, Guinea's ambassador to Liberia drove to the scene of the crash with a list of casualties, including a journalist.

Others were Gen Kalefa Diallo, Guinea's army chief of staff; Col. Mamadou Conte, an interpreter; Col. Malal Dialli, a military aide; Cdt Abdourahmane Camara, renseignement; and Cdt Mamadou Conde, aide camp.

The rest were El Hadji Mamadou Cellou Delein Diallo, Col. Sanoussy Camara, Lt. Col Moustapha Sangare, Lt. Col Soriba Diawara and Lt. Col Mohammed Coumbassa.

"There was the chief of staff and five other military officers on the plane," the report from Guinea said. "It's clear that everyone on the plane is dead."

Diallo was a close ally of Guinean President Alpha Conde, who was elected to lead the world's top bauxite producer in late 2010, ending two years of military rule.

According to the reports, General Diallo was one of the major architects of reform of Guinea's restive military, which had seized power in the former French colony in 2008. Some 4,000 soldiers were forced to retire under a U.N.-backed scheme to slim the bloated armed forces.

Diallo's predecessor, Nouhou Thiam, is in prison facing trial for his alleged role in a gun and rocket attack on President Conde's home by soldiers in 2011.

Conde's government has been trying to organize legislative elections for May, the final step in the transition back to civilian rule and a prerequisite to unlock millions of dollars of frozen foreign aid.

The opposition, alleging bias in the electoral authority, has called protests for Wednesday this week. Conde's 2010 election in a vote hailed as the first free elections since the end of French rule in 1960 was marred by deadly riots and opposition allegations of fraud.

Meanwhile UNMIL has launched a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident and at the same time expressed condolence to Guinea for lost of its soldiers.

In a release, UNMIL offered its condolences and sympathy to the Government of the Republic of Guinea and the family and friends of the passengers who perished yesterday morning when their aircraft crashed close to the Liberian capital, Monrovia.

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