Home | News    Tuesday 29 July 2003 (Date first published: 29 July 2003).

Russian Foreign Ministry: Sudanese authorities release Russian helicopter crew

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MOSCOW, Jul 29, 2003 (AP) — Sudanese authorities freed the crew of a Russian helicopter Tuesday after a flurry of diplomatic activity by Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

The Mi-26 cargo helicopter was detained on July 21 by Sudanese authorities, who doubted Russian claims that the craft was on its way to Congo as part of a United Nations mission. Sudanese officials accused the crew of involvement in a rebellion in western Sudan.

On Tuesday, the crew members - who, according to their company, were being held in an officers’ club in the capital Khartoum - were released, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. It said they were staying at the Russian ambassador’s residence and would soon return to Russia.

A new crew will be sent to Sudan and the helicopter will be allowed to continue its mission, the ministry said.

In comments to the official news agency SUNA, Sudan’s state minister of foreign affairs, Chol Deng Alak, confirmed that the Russians were handed over to the embassy.

However, official continued to question the helicopter’s activities in Sudan.

He said Sudan gave an official letter of protest to the Russian government that included questions on the role of the Russian company that owned the aircraft. He said a letter of protest was also given to the United Nations because the plane bore the U.N. emblem.

"Maybe the Russian authorities were not aware of what has been taking place, given the fact that the plane is owned by a private company that is involved in transports and commercial deals which are not necessarily brought to the attention of the government, " Alak said.

Russia had repeatedly called for the crew’s release. On Monday, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov spoke by telephone to Alak and on Tuesday he discussed the issue with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the ministry said.

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