Maputo — A two year old toddler was the only survivor in a Sudan Airways plane crash early Tuesday, in which 115 people were killed - including 11 crew.
The domestic flight was heading from the northeastern Red Sea town of Port Sudan to the capital, Khartoum, when technical problems forced the pilot to turn the Boeing 737 plane round. But the aircraft crashed as it made an attempt to land.
Speaking in the Mozambican capital, Maputo, where he is attending preparatory meetings ahead of the African Union (AU) summit later this week, Sudans foreign minister, Mustafa Osman Ismael, complained that continued United States sanctions against his country prevented Sudan from importing necessary spare parts for the upkeep of its aircraft.
Reuters reported a Sudan Airways employee saying that the 737 was the only aircraft owned by the airline, and that all other planes in its fleet were leased.
A year ago, a Sudan Airways cargo plane crashed into a residential area in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic. In 1990, Reuters reported that another of the airlines cargo planes crashed on its approach to the international airport in Nairobi, Kenya.
In an interview with journalists in Maputo, Ismael went into greater detail.
What caused the crash?
The plane is a 737, a Boeing, so its American. You know we are under sanctions since the executive order being executed by President Clinton in 1997. From that time we cannot import any, we have no access to have any material for the rehabilitation of these planes, neither directly from the United States market nor indirectly through a third party. That is why we have obviously been affected by the sanctions, not only in the area of planes, but also railways.
You know, we are using Western technology, so once we have been denied spare parts and so on, it directly affects the capability of the planes and the trains.
But if you know the cause was lack of maintenance due to access to spare parts, you must know the precise cause of the crash. What was the cause of the crash?
I was told that it was a technical fault. Thats the news I received, a statement made by the authorities and Sudan Airways.
How much more do you know about the Sudan Airways plane crash?
The plane started its journey from the northern capital, Dungula. Then it stopped at Port Sudan on the Red Sea. From Port Sudan it should have gone to Khartoum. There were 106 passengers and 10 crew members. All of them died except a child of two years.
When the plane left the airport, after just a few minutes a signal came back with the captain saying that he had a problem and that he was going to fly back to Port Sudan airport.
What sort of problems?
Technical problems. The information that I had from Sudan Airways is that the captain said that he had a technical problem and he needed to come back to the airport for rechecking. But unfortunately before it landed, it crashed.
Why are there still U.S. sanctions against Sudan?
The sanctions were imposed because of the fighting in the south... And now there is no fighting. We have signed a cessation of hostilities. We have a verification team on the ground. So thats why we are calling upon the United States to lift these bilateral sanctions so that we could be in a position to rehabilitate and renew our planes and trains and so on, because, whether fortunately or unfortunately, our technology is Western. According to the sanctions we cannot have spare parts directly or even through a third party.
Youre painting a very gloomy picture -
Oh yes. We need to put it quite clearly that we need the sanctions to be lifted so that we can do our job to maintain our planes and our trains.
So is that a warning that none of us should board a Sudanese aircraft because they are poorly maintained and there are no spare parts?
In that context, I have to accept the sanctions and keep silent.
So are you talking to the Americans?
Of course, directly. I met [US Secretary of State] Colin Powell in his office last month and I asked him to lift the sanctions. We are asking third parties to talk to them. We are doing our best in order to get the sanctions lifted.
President Bush is visiting Africa at the moment. Would you have wished he had visited Sudan himself to see what is going on?
Number one, we wish he would lift the sanctions. We acknowledge the role the United States is playing in the peace process in Sudan. We know that they are going to lift the sanctions once we sign a peace agreement. But how long is it going to take and how many lives are we going to lose until we sign a peace agreement?
Is the AU in any way assisting Sudan to put pressure on the U.S. to lift the sanctions?
The AU is assisting us by talking to the Americans. I know they are talking to them. Thats why I said we are doing it directly and through a third party to tell them that the results of the sanctions are affecting individuals, Sudanese citizens, more than the government.
And what has been the American response?
The reality is that we are meeting each other and we are talking to each other. The reality is that they are having a positive role in reaching a peace agreement and in stopping fighting. This is a positive sign.