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Congolese fighter jet crashes during display

Sat 30 Jun 2007, 15:41 GMT
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KINSHASA, June 30 (Reuters) - A Congolese air force fighter plane crashed during an Independence Day display on Saturday, killing the pilot, the U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo said.

The Sukhoi Su-25, a Soviet-designed single-seat fighter, had been flying in formation above a parade attended by President Joseph Kabila in the northeastern city of Kisangani before it lost control while coming in to land.

"When the plane took off, it was reported it had problems with one of its engines," Major Gabriel De Brosses, military spokesman for Congo's 17,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission in Democratic Republic of Congo, told Reuters.

"It crashed at 11:56 local time (0956 GMT) next to the runway in Kisangani, probably due to an engine malfunction just after the ceremony. The pilot was killed," he said.

No one else was known to have been hurt.

It was the second Su-25 Congo had lost in less than a year, further weakening an air force that has only a handful of jets and attack helicopters. One disappeared during a routine rebasing operation in December, although no wreckage was ever found.

The vast mineral-rich central African nation is emerging from decades of mismanagement and a 1998-2003 war that cost an estimated 5 million lives, mainly through hunger and disease.

Security problems persist in Congo, despite a U.N. backed peace process capped by polls last year, in which Kabila became the country's first democratically elected leader in more than four decades.

In an Independence Day address, Kabila said he was committed to pacifying Congo's eastern Kivu provinces, where fighting between Rwandan Hutu rebels and Tutsi-dominated Congolese army brigades has raised fears of a return to war.

"No option will be neglected in order to bring peace back to the east of the country," he said in a pre-recorded address broadcast on Saturday on state-owned television.

Saturday's celebrations commemorated the 47th anniversary of Congo's independence from Belgium.

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