Missing Russian pilot found in Sudan: diplomats, UN


A Russian helicopter pilot who disappeared in Sudan was found and handed over to the United Nations mission in Darfur, said Russian diplomats and UN peacekeepers.

“We can now confirm that the pilot has been located and safely returned to Nyala, South Darfur,” a UN spokeswoman said in New York. “The government of Sudan was involved in the pick-up.”

Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Mikhail Margelov, the Russian president’s special envoy to Sudan, as saying Sudanese “irregular paramilitaries” had taken the pilot prisoner after his helicopter landed off-target on Monday.
“Our position is simple — none of the warring sides in Sudan has the right to use Russian pilots as a bargaining chip. We have voiced this in a tough and clear way to all those following the situation in Sudan,” he said.

A spokesman for the Russian embassy in Khartoum said the pilot was in satisfactory condition.

The United Nations said on Thursday the pilot and three rebel commanders had been beaten and robbed by “unidentified hostile elements” when their UN helicopter landed in Sudan’s conflict-torn Darfur region earlier this week.

The United Nations is investigating the incident.

Subsequently the crew and passengers, with the exception of the pilot, were taken to a government military camp.

The helicopter, belonging to Russian aviation firm UTair, lost contact after landing in a mainly Arab tribal area in Sudan’s troubled west. It was carrying three Darfur rebels from the Liberty and Justice Movement on their way to peace talks.

Sudan’s army grounded the helicopter after it missed its destination because of bad weather, UN officials said on Tuesday. They denied initial reports that it had been seized by rebels.

UN officials estimate that as many as 300,000 people have died in Darfur since insurgents took up arms in 2003, accusing Khartoum of neglecting the arid region. Khartoum puts the death toll at around 10,000.