Diplomats shake hands after signing agreement to deliver aid to South Kordofan and the Blue Nile states in Khartoum, 5 August (Photo: Reuters)
A Sudanese cabinet minister was among 31 people killed Sunday when an airplane crashed as it carried a delegation to war-torn South Kordofan state for Muslim Eid holiday celebrations, officials and state media said.
"All people on board were killed," Abdelhafiz Abdelrahim, spokesman for the Sudan Aviation Authority, told AFP.
Among the dead was Khartoum's Guidance and Endowments Minister Ghazi Al-Saddiq, the official SUNA news agency said, reporting that 26 people were aboard the aircraft.
Speaking on the official Radio Omdurman, Culture and Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman said the plane "crashed into a hill" because of bad weather, killing the entire delegation.
Abdelrahim said the Russian-made Antonov plane was landing in Talodi town at about 8:00 am (0500 GMT) when "an explosion was heard and the plane was destroyed."
Although there have been no reports of major fighting around Talodi in recent weeks, the town has been a key battleground in the war which began in June last year between the government and ethnic rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N).
Rebel spokesman Arnu Ngutulu Lodi told AFP that his forces had nothing to do with the crash, which happened outside rebel territory.
"It is a government area," he said.
The town, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the disputed border with South Sudan, sits on a partly-forested plain beneath craggy hills.
Heavy rains have been reported in South Kordofan recently.
The dead minister, Saddiq, took on the guidance and endowments portfolio, among whose duties is religious issues, during a July cabinet reshuffle which trimmed the number of ministries.
Prior to the reshuffle he had been minister of tourism and antiquities since December.
The rebels in South Kordofan fought alongside former insurgents now ruling in South Sudan, which became independent in July last year.
Sudan accuses South Sudan of supporting the SPLM-N, a charge which analysts believe despite denials by Juba, which in turn accuses Khartoum of backing rebels south of the border.
Sudanese officials say resolution of the security issue is key to the implementation of an oil deal reached early this month with the Juba government during African Union-led talks.
SPLM-N has been waging a similar conflict since September in Sudan's Blue Nile state.
The UN has expressed concern for months about a worsening humanitarian situation in the war zone, where Khartoum cited security concerns in tightly restricting the operations of foreign aid agencies.
But in early August, Sudan signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations, the African Union and the Arab League to allow for humanitarian access throughout South Kordofan and Blue Nile—including in rebel-held areas.
A similar memorandum has been reached between the three agencies and the SPLM-N, but officials say logistical details of the aid operation are still being finalised and there is not yet a start date.
The UN says more than 650,000 people have been displaced or severely affected by the fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Khartoum has also restricted visits by journalists to the area, although top officials last week promised access for reporters.