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Sudan denounces kidnapping of two Russian pilots in Darfur

February 3, 2015 (KHARTOUM) – Sudan’s foreign ministry has condemned the abduction of two Russian pilots in Central Darfur state by an unknown armed group last Thursday, saying intensive efforts were underway to secure their release.

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Four South African peacekeepers with UNAMID arrive in South Darfur capital Nyala on 26 April 2010 after a 16-day ordeal (Photo courtesy of the UN)

The state minister at Sudan’s foreign ministry, Kamal Ismail, said at a press conference on Tuesday the government won’t succumb to blackmail by the abductors, pointing to previous experiences with kidnappers in similar incidents.

He further ruled out any political motives behind the incident, saying the kidnappers belong to the rebel groups.

Meanwhile, the hybrid peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) confirmed on Tuesday that the two Russian pilots were working for a company contracted by the mission when they were kidnapped by militants.

Turkish news agency Anadolu quoted UNAMID’s spokesperson, Ashraf Issa, as saying that “unidentified militants on 29 January kidnapped two Russian pilots in Zalingei (the capital of Central Darfur state) as they were on board a bus in the city”.

He said UAMID is currently working with Sudanese authorities to secure their release, declining to give further details to ensure the pilots’ safety.

Meanwhile, the Russian embassy in Khartoum said in a statement on Tuesday that the two pilots work for UTair Aviation, saying the embassy is also working closely with UNAMID and the Sudanese government.

“Two UTAir employees working for UNAMID were kidnapped in the Sudanese city of Zalingei at approximately 10.30am (local time) on 29 January. Unknown gunmen on six vehicles blocked a UNAMID minivan, forcing people out. The passengers were then taken to an undisclosed location,” UTAir said in a statement on Tuesday.

Russian news agency Sputnik quoted a source within the Sudanese foreign ministry as saying the “kidnappers of the Russian pilots are demanding a ransom to release them”.

The same source said the kidnappers informed UNAMID that they are awaiting the ransom payment to release the two abductees.

UNAMID workers have been kidnapped in Darfur several times, and the Sudanese government has warned against paying ransoms to avoid the recurrence of such incidents.

Central Darfur governor Jaafar Abdel-hakam has also confirmed the pilots’ kidnapping by masked gunmen last week.

He stressed that a force belonging to the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) has tracked down the perpetrators to determine the location of the abductees and release them.

He said UNAMID had been warned several times against travelling within the state without proper military protection, saying the mission had failed to take their advice seriously.

Darfur has been the scene of fierce conflict between the Sudanese government and three rebel movements since 2003. The conflict has left 300,000 people dead and around 2.5 million others displaced, according to UN figures.

UNAMID has been working in Darfur since early 2008. It is the second largest peacekeeping mission in the world, containing 20,000 troops, policemen and personnel from several countries.