(180320) -- KIGALI, March 20, 2018 (Xinhua) -- African Union (AU) Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat delivers remarks at an AU Executive Council meeting in Kigali, capital city of Rwanda on March 19, 2018. Moussa Faki Mahamat on Monday stressed the importance of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in Kigali. (Xinhua/Gabriel Dusabe)(axy)

JOHANNESBURG - The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, has sent the condolences of the AU to the Algerian government and families of the victims of Wednesday’s military plane crash in Algeria which killed at least 257 people, stating that the tragedy affected not only Algeria but the whole continent.

At least 26 members of the Polisario Front, supported by Algeria and seeking independence from Morocco for Western Sahara, are said to be among the dead.

Mohammed Achour, the chief spokesman for the civil protection agency, said the Russian-designed Il-76 military transport plane had been carrying soldiers.

The flight had just taken off from Boufarik, about 30km south-west of Algiers, when it crashed. It was bound for a military base in Béchar in the south-west of the country, Achour said.

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It was scheduled to make a stopover in Tindouf, in western Algeria, home to many refugees from the neighbouring Western Sahara, a disputed territory annexed by Morocco.

TV footage showed 14 ambulances at the scene transferring the injured to hospital and smoke from a wreckage in the field.

An investigation into reasons for the crash has been ordered by the Algeria’s military chief.

Four years ago a plane carrying military personnel and family members crashed in Algeria, killing 77 people.

African News Agency/ANA