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Tunisian army brass wiped out in helicopter crash

Friday, May 3, 2002

CAIRO — Tunisia has launched an investigation into the crash of a military helicopter that appears to have killed much of the army command.

The helicopter crashed on Tuesday in northern Tunisia. The official TAP news agency said the helicopter was transporting army officers who were returning from an inspection of troops near the Algerian border, where Islamic insurgents are said to be active.

Algeria and Tunisia have cooperated over the last year in tracking down the insurgents, who have used the Tunisian frontier to launch attacks against Algierian troops and civilians, Middle East Newsline reported.

Defense Minister Dali Jazi said 13 Tunisian army officers were killed in the crash about 60 kilometers northwest of Tunis. This included the army chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Abdul Aziz Skik, appointed army commander late last year. The remaining officers included five colonels.

TAP said the military has launched a probe of the accident, called the worst in the country's history. The agency said the cause of the crash appears to have been a technical fault.

Tunisia has one of the more modern helicopter fleets in North Arica. Its medium-transport S-61R fleet was obtained in 1994 and the French-made SA-342 Gazelle's were delivered in 1991. The rest of Tunisia's helicopter fleet was obtained in the 1970ss and 1980s.

Tunisia's military did not disclose how many people were killed or injured in the crash or the model helicopter that went down. But Western defense sources who monitor Tunisia said the military has reduced the purchase of supplies and maintenance amid budget woes.

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