Contact established missing chopper crew: Gambari

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Contact has been established with three of four crew members of a Russian helicopter that went missing in south Darfur, the head of the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) mission said here Tuesday.

Ibrahim Gambari, UNAMID joint special representative, told the UN Security Council that the pilot of the UNAMID helicopter, which had five Sudanese passengers and four Russian crew members aboard, remained unaccounted for.

The helicopter, belonging to Russian air company UTair, went missing while transporting members of the Security Arrangements Committee of the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) to locations in south Darfur, he said.

The LJM is an alliance of 10 Darfur rebel groups formed last February.

"Earlier today we have been able to establish contact with three of the four crew members of the helicopter, as well as one international staff who reported to be in safety" at a Sudanese government location south of Menawashi," Gambari said.

He said UNAMID was working with the Sudanese government and rebel groups in the area to try to locate the missing pilot.

In Moscow, the Russian foreign ministry said Darfur rebels seized the Russian helicopter which was working under contract for UNAMID.

"According to our information, there are no casualties and the aircraft was not damaged," the ministry said, adding that its embassy in Khartoum was working on the case.

But UNAMID later denied that the Russian helicopter had been seized by Darfur rebels

The strife-torn western Sudanese region has seen a wave of kidnappings of foreign nationals since March 2009, with 17 foreigners including 10 Westerners seized there.

Two German aid workers kidnapped on June 22 when gunmen swooped on their offices in south Darfur were freed on Tuesday, Germany's foreign ministry said.

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

© 2010 AFP

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