World News

Russian copter seized in Darfur, most crew safe: reports

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Darfur rebels seized a Russian helicopter with four crew and five Sudanese passengers but three of the Russians and one Sudanese were later reported to be in safety, Russian media said on Tuesday.

The fate of the helicopter commander and four Sudanese aboard the helicopter grabbed by the insurgents was unclear, RIA news agency quoted a U.N. official as saying on Tuesday.

It quoted Ibrahim Gambari, head of the joint U.N./African Union UNAMID force in Darfur, telling a U.N. Security Council meeting that peacekeepers had “established contact” with three Russian crew and one of the Sudanese.

Gambari said the four were in safety in a security zone controlled by Sudan’s government, according to RIA. It was unclear how they reached the area.

Yuri Vidakas, spokesman for Russia’s embassy in Sudan, told Rossiya 24 channel: “It is premature to call this a hostage-taking.” He said the helicopter could have landed in a wrong place “due to a glitch in its navigation equipment.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the helicopter belonged to Russian aviation firm UTair and had been working in Darfur on a contract with the United Nations to supply UNAMID peacekeepers.

U.N. officials estimate that as many as 300,000 people have died in Darfur since insurgents took up arms in 2003, accusing Khartoum of neglecting the arid region. Khartoum puts the death toll at around 10,000.

Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Mark Heinrich