3 Russians abducted in Darfur freed by Sudanese forces

By Mohamed Osman, AP
Tuesday, August 31, 2010

3 Russians kidnapped in Darfur freed

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Three Russians abducted by gunmen in Sudan’s restive Darfur region were freed by security forces after a clash with their kidnappers, a Sudanese news website reported Tuesday.

Security forces fought with the kidnappers Monday night before freeing the men, who worked for a company transporting food for the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, the Sudan Media Center reported, quoting provincial Governor Abdel-Hameed Moussa Kasha.

The three Russians — two pilots and an engineer — were kidnapped Sunday after leaving an airfield in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur province, and soon afterward the military said they had identified where they were being held.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said the crew worked for Badr Airlines, based in the capital, Khartoum.

Another Russian pilot was kidnapped last month by Arab militiamen in the western Sudanese province after making an emergency landing in a helicopter. That pilot was also recovered.

Darfur has been in turmoil since 2003, when ethnic African rebels accusing the Arab-dominated government of discrimination and neglect took up arms against it.

Khartoum is accused of retaliating by arming local nomadic Arab tribes and unleashing Arab militias on civilian populations — a charge the government denies.

The U.N. estimates 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have been displaced.

Recently, the vast arid western region has been more stable, but since elections in April there have been a rash of kidnappings and violence. The elections kept President Omar al-Bashir, accused of war crimes in Darfur, in office for another five years.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said last year that U.N. peacekeeping missions in Sudan have continued to use aircraft operated by Badr Airlines even after the U.N. Security Council recommended an aviation ban be imposed on the carrier in response to arms embargo violations.

Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations in New York.

(This version CORRECTS that news website is not state-run and those kidnapped were two pilots and an engineer).)

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