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Russia Backs Away from Reported Seizure of Helicopter in Darfur

Russian officials are backing away from reports that a Russian helicopter was seized, along with nine people on board, in Sudan's troubled Darfur region.

The Russian Foreign Ministry Tuesday initially reported that rebels seized the helicopter. But a Russian Embassy official in Khartoum, Yuri Vidakas, now says the helicopter's pilot may have simply landed in the wrong place due to a navigational error.

The helicopter was reported to be carrying four Russians and five Sudanese. Officials in Moscow said it belongs to a Russian company and was operating in support of African Union and U.N. peacekeepers.

In a separate development, two German aid workers held hostage in Darfur for more than a month were set free.

The news was announced Tuesday by the German Foreign Ministry. The ministry did not say how the two men gained their freedom, or provide any details about their kidnappers.

Foreign aid workers have faced increased hostility in Darfur since the International Criminal Court indicted Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir last year for alleged war crimes. Attacks and kidnappings have forced many groups to withdraw foreign staff and change the way they operate in the region.

The United Nations says the conflict in Darfur has killed as many as 300,000 people and displaced 2.7 million. Sudan's government says around 10,000 people have died.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.