Three Latvia helicopter crew kidnapped in Sudan's Darfur: UN
Three Latvian helicopter crew members working for the World Food Programme have been kidnapped in the troubled Sudanese state of South Darfur, the United Nations agency said on Friday.
The WFP said the pilots were abducted in the state capital of Nyala, confirming a statement issued earlier by the South Darfur governorate following reports that the trio were Russians.
"I can only confirm that three crew members working for the UN humanitarian air service, contracted to the WFP, were abducted in Nyala town on Thursday," WFP spokesman Amor Almagro said.
"All three of them are Latvian nationals. They are helicopter crew," Almagro later also told AFP.
Abdel Hamid Kasha, the governor of South Darfur, had previously said the three pilots were Russians.
"Last night, unidentified gunmen stormed the home of three Russian pilots working for a private company that has a contract with the WFP and took them to an unknown location," he said.
"The security services searched for the kidnappers until nightfall" without success, said the governor.
But the Russian embassy in Khartoum also denied the pilots were its nationals, according to a report by Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency.
The three crewmen kidnapped in Darfur are employees of Latvian company GM Helicopters, Russian consul Yevgeny Arzhantsev was cited as telling ITAR-TASS. "There are no Russians among the hostages."
Darfur has seen a wave of kidnappings for ransom since March 2009, when the International Criminal Court indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes in the strife-torn western region.
The latest comes after an armed group abducted two Russian pilots from Nyala on August 29.
About two weeks earlier, two Jordanian police advisers deployed with the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID) were kidnapped at gunpoint.
More than 20 foreigners have been kidnapped in the war-torn region since March 2009, with all the hostages having been released unharmed a few days later, including the Russians abducted in late August.
Darfur has been gripped by a civil war since 2003 that has killed 300,000 people and displaced another 2.7 million, according to UN figures. Khartoum says 10,000 people have died in the conflict.
© 2010 AFP