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Russian pilot missing in Sudan’s Darfur returns to UN base

A Russian helicopter pilot who went missing in Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region was returned to his UN peacekeepers’ base on Thursday, as Moscow said he had been taken prisoner and freed.

Sudanese authorities “asked us to send a helicopter from Nyala to a place east of Kass to recover the Russian pilot” missing since Monday, said Kemal Saiki of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).

“At about 20:15 (1715 GMT), the helicopter returned to our base in Nyala with the pilot. He is under medical observation. We will have further details on the circumstances after a debriefing tomorrow,” he told AFP.

“We have no details on the circumstances of his disappearance for the time being.”

But in Moscow, Russian official Mikhail Marguelov, quoted by Interfax news agency, said pilot Yevgeny Mostovshchikov, who had been “taken prisoner has been freed and is back in the UN mission” in the Darfur region of west Sudan.

His helicopter, which belonged to Russian company UTair, was contracted to the United Nations and was carrying rebels to talks in neighbouring Chad with representatives of the Sudanese government.

It landed in south Darfur “to pick up another group of rebels and transport them to Chad,” according to the Russian foreign ministry. The helicopter returned to Nyala on Tuesday with three of its four crew members.

UNAMID said the group had “fallen into the hands of unidentified hostile elements” and been “attacked and beaten up by unknown armed men in uniform.”

Sudanese authorities later intervened and recovered the other crew members apart from Mostovshchikov and their passengers, taking them to a military base, it said.

Darfur has been gripped by civil war since 2003, leaving 300,000 people dead and 2.7 million displaced, according to the United Nations. Khartoum says 10,000 have been killed.

The region has seen a wave of kidnappings since March 2009, when the International Criminal Court indicted Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes in Darfur, with 17 foreigners seized.

On Thursday, gunmen ambushed a UNAMID patrol in West Darfur state, leaving four peacekeepers slightly wounded, the joint force said, adding that UNAMID soldiers repelled their assailants with heavy gunfire.