KHARTOUM, Sudan — A rebel official said Sudan's vice president, a former rebel leader and a key figure in the country's fledgling peace deal, was killed in a helicopter crash. Search crews reached the site early today and found a body they believe to be that of John Garang, a U.N. official said.
An official in Garang's Sudan People's Liberation Army told The Associated Press that Garang's death had been confirmed. The official, in Khartoum, had spoken with SPLA leaders who were meeting at their headquarters in the southern town of Rombeck and were planning to make an official announcement soon.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was giving the information before the announcement.
Garang's absence will be a heavy blow to the January peace deal that ended a 21-year civil war between the mostly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south in which some 2 million people died.
The 60-year-old former rebel, who was sworn in as vice president just three weeks ago, left on a flight from Uganda for southern Sudan at 5:30 p.m. Ugandan time Saturday afternoon, Sudanese and Ugandan officials said.
His helicopter had attempted to land in the New Kush region of southern Sudan but aborted the landing because of bad weather and headed back south.