A Russian helicopter pilot missing since the start of the week was found safe late today in southern Darfur, the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission in the war-ravaged Sudanese region confirmed.
On Monday, a UNAMID helicopter had picked up three representatives of the rebel group known as the Liberty and Justice Movement (LJM) as part of plans to transport them to the Qatari capital, Doha, to participate in peace talks aimed at bringing an end to the long-running Darfur conflict.
The aircraft " with four Russian crew members, the LJM delegates and one international UNAMID civilian staff member on board " was diverted several kilometres from where it was scheduled to land in Oum Sader, 55 kilometres north of Nyala, due to poor conditions on the ground.
They were then met by a hostile group which robbed and beat several people aboard the helicopter, a UTAir Russian company aircraft contracted to work for the mission.
Minus the pilot, the passengers of the helicopter were taken to a nearby Government military camp, where they stayed overnight, before arriving at the UNAMID base in Nyala on Tuesday.
The mission was since contacted by Sudanese authorities to have an aircraft on standby, UNAMID spokesperson Kemal Saiki told the UN News Centre.
The mission`s helicopter, carrying security officers from both UNAMID and the Sudanese Government, flew to Oum Sader to recover the Russian pilot. He is now at UNAMID`s base in Nyala, where he is undergoing a medical examination.
This incident comes as tensions are rising in the region, with UNAMID peacekeepers on patrol in western Darfur being ambushed by unidentified gunmen today in an attack that injured seven blue helmets.
According to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), the troops returned fire on their attackers, who fled the scene, and UNAMID immediately sent reinforcement troops to the scene of the clashes.
In another incident, clashes broke out in Kalma camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) over the weekend on the heels of the latest round of the Doha peace talks between those who support the negotiations and those who do not.
The gunmen identified themselves as members of the Abdul Wahid faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), one of numerous rebel groups that have been fighting Government forces.
One person was injured and no deaths were reported following the violence. Sudanese authorities have arrested two people for attempting to assault a sheikh who attended the Doha conference.
In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on all concerned to address their differences through political dialogue and to refrain from any action that could incite violence. "
Some 300,000 people have been killed and 2.7 million others have been displaced in the past seven years in Darfur due to fighting between rebels and Government forces backed by allied Janjaweed militiamen.