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Russia demands release of helicopter crew in Sudan

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MOSCOW, Jul 24, 2003 (AP) — Russia has demanded that Sudanese authorities release the crew of a Russia cargo helicopter that was seized in the city of al-Fasher on its way to Congo, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday.

The Russian company that owns the Mi-26 helicopter, Vertikal-T, said its crew was arrested in al-Fasher, in western Sudan, after the craft was seized by military authorities there Monday, the Interfax news agency reported.

Vertikal-T said the helicopter was bringing humanitarian supplies to Congo, but that Sudanese authorities claimed that it was performing a military mission and did not have the appropriate permission to fly through Sudan, Interfax reported.

"The Sudanese say that the documents for transit were filled out incorrectly," Yakovenko said in televised comments. He said Russian Embassy in Sudan was in contact with authorities in an effort to clear up the matter and free the crew.

Interfax quoted an unnamed spokesman for Vertikal-T as saying the helicopter was conducting the flight under a contract with the United Nations and was marked with U.N. symbols.

The spokesman said the crew had been locked in a clay hut, denied access to the helicopter, given no drinking water Wednesday and were being give meals only once a day, according to Interfax.

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