MOSCOW, January 18 (Itar-Tass) —— The withdrawal of part of Russian peacekeepers from Sudan is not connected with the detention of the crew of an An-32 aircraft, including a Russian pilot, Mikhail Margelov, member of the upper house Russian parliament, the Russian President’s envoy for Africa, told Itar-Tass on Wednesday.
“As to a report about the withdrawal of part of the contingent of our force participating in the UN peacekeeping operation in Sudan, this is not connected in any way with the incident with the crew of an An-32 plane, which was making an ordinary commercial flight,” he said. “This applies to an additional Russian group of four helicopters flown to Sudan last year in the run up to the referendum on self-determination of South Sudan,” Margelov said. “The UN mission in Sudan was then short of aircraft after the Indian helicopter group left Sudan,” he noted.
The Russian President’s envoy stressed it was stipulated that the group that arrived from Chad would stay in Sudan for six months. “Now that term has expired. Sudan divided peacefully, and the additional helicopter group returned to Russia under the president’s decision,” he went on. “The permanent Russian helicopter group continues working within the composition of the UN mission in Sudan,” he said.
On Tuesday, January 17, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told reporters that Russia may shortly terminate its participation in the UN peacekeeping operation in South Sudan. He explained this by the fact that “Russia of late has not found the situation with security in the area satisfactory.” “Moscow has already addressed the UN and the South Sudanese authorities with the request to ensure security of the Russian personnel, but there is no certainty that this is being done,” the diplomat noted. “Therefore, our units will, most probably, be shortly withdrawn,” he said.
According to the information of the Russian Foreign Ministry, two Russian helicopter squads now operate in the region and some 120 Russian nationals, including pilots and maintenance staff, work there.
The crew of an An-32 plane, including Russian pilot V.Popkov, was detained in South Sudan. The Russian embassy makes active moves to bring about his prompt release. According to Margelov’s information, the detained pilots may soon be released.