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Kidnapped Russian Pilots Released in Sudan


Sergei Cherepanov, left, and Mikhail Antyufeev, two Russians kidnapped in Sudan's Darfur region in January 2015, wait at the airport in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, after they were freed by their captors, June 6, 2015.

Two Russian pilots who were kidnapped by gunmen in the unsettled Darfur region of Sudan have been released and are now in the Russian Embassy in Sudan's capital, Khartoum.

Sergei Cherepanov and Mikhail Antyufeev appeared in good health Saturday when they met with reporters in Khartoum International Airport after being flown from the town of Zalingei, the capital of Central Darfur state.

Sudanese officials said that the operation to free the pilots was not violent and that no ransom had been paid.

The kidnappers, their equipment and their vehicles "are now under our control," said Lieutenant General Taj al-Sir Osman, an official with Sudan's security agency.

The pilots had been taken from Zalingei by an unidentified group at the end of January.

Cherepanov and Antyufeev worked for Russia's UTair Aviation and were in Sudan on a contract with the United Nations-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID).

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was "deeply gratified" by the release of the pilots and "relieved that the contractors will be able to reunite with their families and loved ones after 128 days in captivity."

The UNAMID mission was deployed in 2007 to protect civilians in Darfur, the scene of fierce fighting involving the Sudanese government and three rebel groups.

Some 300,000 people have been killed in the Darfur conflict and another 2.5 million were forced to flee their homes, the United Nations says, although Khartoum estimates the death toll at 10,000.