TYUMEN, January 10 (RIA Novosti) - A Russian-owned Mil Mi-26 transport helicopter operating on contract to the UN in South Sudan was hit by gunfire recently but the crew was not hurt, the aircraft's operator UTair told RIA Novosti on Thursday.
"Everyone is alive and all is well," a UTair source said, without clarifying when the incident took place.
The shooting, at Bau near South Sudan's border with Ethiopia, was only detected when the flight crew noticed bullet holes in the left side of the cabin while the machine was on the ground. Damage was sustained to the air conditioning system, radio-compass and some other systems, UTair said.
"The helicopter last flew on December 31 and since then has stayed on the pad," the airline said. "It has been regularly maintained and no damage was noticed, but there was shooting in the region of Bau airport on the night of January 5-6. We think these were stray bullets. When the aircraft was given a pre-flight service, the damage was noticed but it was insignificant. There was no threat to flight," UTair added.
The UN says it will investigate the incident, UTair told Prime News.
"Additional security measures will be taken for staff and equipment," the airline said.
News of the incident comes a day after the Sudanese ambassador in Russia, Omar Dahab Mohamed, accused his counterpart from South Sudan of disinformation for accusing Khartoum of responsibility for an incident in which a Russian-operated Mi-8 helicopter was shot down in South Sudan last December, killing its four Russian crew.
"Instead of taking responsiblity for this act, the South Sudan ambassador unfortunately tried to blame the government of Sudan," he said.
On December 28, the South Sudanese ambassador in Moscow, Shol Deng Alak, claimed Sudanese aircraft disguised with UN markings had repeatedly violated South Sudanese airspace, which may have prompted the attack on the helicopter. South Sudan had initially claimed the aircraft had not cleared its flight when it was shot down.
The Russian Foreign Ministry called on South Sudan to investigate the incident and punish those responsible and take action to guarantee similar incidents do not happen again.
South Sudan and Sudan have been on the brink of war several times since South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011. The two sides have been in dispute over their borders, which run through oil-rich districts, and both claim the other supports rebel movements in each other's territory.
(Updated to include lines 4-7 on UN investigation and quotes from UTair on how incident took place).