July 27, 2010
(KATAKAMI / RIA NOVOSTI) A Russian helicopter allegedly hijacked by militants in Sudan has returned unscathed to its home base in the province of Darfur on Tuesday, a Russian aviation company said in a statement.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said a helicopter with four crew members and five passengers operating in the Darfur region had been hijacked. It was also earlier reported that there was no contact with the pilot, but the remaining three crew members and passengers were in a safe zone.
The aviation company that owns the helicopter, UTAir, said in a statement on Tuesday that the helicopter had returned to its home base in western Sudan. The helicopter was not damaged and the crew and passengers are safe, according to the statement.
“After landing at a stopover point in Sudan, the helicopter was detained by Sudanese authorities,” the statement read. On Monday, the helicopter was en route from Al-Fashir, Sudan, to a village in Chad on a UN mission.
“UN representatives are presently investigating the incident. UTAir and the Russian Embassy along with UN representatives in Sudan are taking all measures to clarify the situation,” the statement said.
The helicopter belongs to Russia’s UTair Aviation company and was working in Sudan on a UN contract. When it was hijacked, the helicopter was on a joint UN and African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur.
The civil war that broke out in the western region of Darfur in early 2003 has claimed the lives of more than 300,000, according to United Nations estimates, and forced 2.7 million people from their homes. The Sudanese side puts the number of dead at 10,000.
Several Sudanese rebel groups have recently signed peace accords with the government in Khartoum but a key rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army, has so far rejected negotiations with Khartoum and fought fierce clashes with the Sudanese Army in March.
Russia has been maintaining a peacekeeping contingent in the war-torn country since April 2006 as part of the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS). (*)