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Top Lao officials lie in state after plane crash

Lao defense minister, top officials, lie in state after plane crash; investigation underway

Top Lao officials lie in state after plane crash

BANGKOK (AP) -- The bodies of three top officials from Laos who died in a plane crash over the weekend lay in state Monday ahead of funerals in the secretive Southeast Asian nation.

At least five people have been confirmed dead so far, including Defense Minister Douangchay Phichit. About 18 people were believed to have been on board the Ukrainian-made AN-74TK-300 transport aircraft when it went down Saturday in Xiangkhoung province, about 470 kilometers (290 miles) from the capital, Vientiane.

The Lao state news agency, KPL, described the crash as an accident and said it was being investigated.

The Lao Communist government is notoriously secret and most information about the crash came from officials in neighboring Thailand.

The news agency said those lying in state included Douangchay, Public Security Minister Thongbane Sengaphone and Vientiane Gov. Sukhan Mahalad.

Douangchay was also one of Laos' deputy prime ministers and a high-ranking member of its Politburo, the main decision-making body for the nation's all-powerful Lao People's Revolutionary Party, which has ruled since 1975.

Laos declared a three-day national mourning after the crash, which ends Monday.

The plane crash was the second for Laos in less than a year. In October, a Lao Airlines ATR-72 turboprop crashed during a heavy storm as it approached Pakse Airport in southern Laos, killing all 49 people on board.