By Wasil Ali
May 29, 2008 (WASHINGTON) — The Russian government confirmed that one of its citizens was killed during clashes that erupted near the Sudanese capital earlier this month.
- Sudanese MIG-29 during a military parade in Khartoum December 31 2007 (Sudaninside.com)
Russia’s news agency (Interfax) quoted an unidentified official as saying that a retired military pilot died in combat “when his MiG-29F fighter jet was shot down by rebels”.
The Russian official said that the pilot, whose name was not released, was a trainer pilot who signed a contract to work in Sudan.
However it the official did not provide details on why the trainer pilot boarded the MIG-29 during the heavy fighting that broke out in Omdurman, across the river Nile from Khartoum.
The Darfur Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) fighters mounted an assault on the Sudanese capital on May 10th that took the government and international community by surprise. However the Sudanese government managed to repulse the attack and accused Chad of backing JEM in its attempt.
Yesterday the independent Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy quoted a man by the name of Vladimir as saying that a colleague of his in Sudan told him that “a flight instructor flying a MIG-29 was shot down from a large-caliber machine-gun during this fighting [Darfur rebel attack]”.
The report by the Russian radio comes almost two weeks after Sudanese authorities closed down the Arabic language Alwan newspaper for publishing news on a Russian fighter jet and its Russian pilot, who went missing after the attack by JEM.
“The rumor about the missing MIG-29 belonging to the armed forces during the incidents in Omdurman got no confirmation or denial from the government or JEM even though everybody is looking at the sky and inquiring about the fate of the fighter jet and the Russian pilot” was the text published in the newspaper that triggered the crackdown by Sudanese security.
The pro-government Sudanese Media Center (SMC) website has said that Salah Gosh, the head of Sudan’s National Security and Intelligence Service issued a decree suspending the publication of the newspaper and ordered a freeze on its properties and assets while filing a police complaint against its editor in Chief Hussein Khogali.
SMC said that the decree was issued because Alwan “disclosed sensitive military information harmful to the country’s security and its accomplishments”.
The Ekho Moskvy radio also quoted Vladimir as saying that the flight instructor managed to eject after his plane was shot by JEM rebels “but the parachute failed to open and the pilot died”.
Vladimir did not provide the pilot’s name but said that “he was from the Ryazan higher military academy”.
The Russian defense ministry spokesman told Interfax that the pilot “was not in active service” during his time in Sudan.
"There are no fighter jet pilots in the Russian air group in Sudan" he said.
A prominent political analyst speaking to Sudan Tribune on condition of anonymity because he feared government reprisal said that many of the Sudanese pilots are from Darfur and as such “the government looked at them with suspicion”.
“During the height of war in Darfur many of these Darfuri pilots refused to take part in the aerial bombardment and some ended up in jail. It meant that they had to train new pilots which takes a long time” he said.
The 2005 report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur created by the UN Security Council stated that Khartoum prosecuted “a number of air force pilots who had refused to participate in bombing areas in Darfur”.
The online World Tribune website quoted an unidentified Russian source in Moscow as saying that “there were significant problems in the effectiveness of Sudanese MIG pilots. With the new planes came Russian training and advisers, who also served as pilots”.