MOSCOW, August 13 (RIA Novosti) – The United Nations Mission in Darfur is negotiating with Sudanese rebels for the release of a Russian-made helicopter and its three crewmembers, a mission spokesman said Tuesday.
There were reportedly two Ukrainians and one Sudanese aboard the UN-contracted Mi-8 helicopter when it was seized by the Sudanese Liberation Movement after making an emergency landing southwest of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur.
“Negotiations are ongoing with the rebels about the fate of the crew. The Russian firm that owns the helicopter, the company that has contracted it and representatives of our mission are participating [in the talks] with assistance from Sudanese authorities,” the UN mission’s acting spokesman, Chris Cycmanick, told RIA Novosti.
He said the Mi-8 was chartered by the Kuwait-based Gulf Catering Company, which delivers foods under contract with the UN. He said he did not know the name of the Russian firm. The Russian Embassy in Sudan has said there were no Russians among the crew.
Hussein Minnawi, a member of the Sudanese Liberation Movement's political bureau, told AFP that if the helicopter were owned by a private firm, then it would be released.
"We are in conflict with the government, not private [firms]," he was quoted as saying.
The helicopter was delivering supplies to UN mission locations in South Darfur when a mechanical failure forced it to make an emergency landing on August 3, Cycmanick told AFP.
Last December, a United Nations Mi-8 helicopter with four Russian crewmembers was brought down in South Sudan by surface-to-air artillery fire. All four crewmembers died. The UN said previously that the helicopter had been shot down by the Sudan People's Liberation Army.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has urged South Sudanese authorities to carry out a complete investigation into that incident, punish those guilty and ensure that a similar incident did not occur in the future.