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UN: Missing Russian Pilot Freed in Sudan

The United Nations says a Russian helicopter pilot who disappeared in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region has been found and returned to his U.N. peacekeeper's base after being seized and beaten by a militia group earlier this week.

A U.N. spokesman, Farhan Haq, said Thursday that the pilot, who works for the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force, was returned safely by helicopter to Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state, where the force has a base.

Russia's special presidential envoy to Sudan, Mikhail Margelov, said "irregular paramilitaries" from the pro-government Janjaweed militia had taken Yevgeny Mostovshchikov prisoner and attempted to use him to bargain concessions from Sudanese authorities.

The pilot was transporting three commanders of the rebel Liberation and Justice Movement, or LJM, on their way to peace talks when he lost radio contact after landing in a mainly Arab tribal area.

Meanwhile, the U.N. said three civilians were killed late Wednesday in a Darfur refugee camp during fighting between supporters and opponents of peace talks with the government.

The UNAMID mission in Darfur confirmed Thursday that three supporters of the LJM, a new alliance of small rebel groups with few troops on the ground, were killed at a camp for displaced persons in the town of Zalengi, in West Darfur state.

UNAMID said a number of houses belonging to LJM supporters were also burned down. Sudanese troops have arrested four suspects and seized a number of weapons. The Reuters news agency reported that fighting erupted again in a second camp in South Darfur Thursday, killing five more people and wounding dozens.

Wednesday's clash in Zalengi pitted backers of the LJM, the only group negotiating with the government, against those from a hardline faction of the Sudan Liberation Army, or SLA, led by Abdel Wahid Mohammed Nur. The SLA is one of the main Darfur rebel movements that opposes the Qatari-sponsorerd Doha talks.

Another group, the Justice and Equality Movement, suspended talks with the government after saying it violated a cease-fire agreement. Divisions over Darfur's faltering peace process run deep, and the U.N. says tensions are rising in the region.

Seven UNAMID peacekeepers on patrol in West Darfur were wounded Thursday after being ambushed by unidentified gunmen.

Peacekeepers and foreign aid workers have faced increased hostility in Darfur since last year, when the International Criminal Court indicted Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes. A growing number of attacks and kidnappings in Darfur has forced many groups to withdraw foreign staff and change the way they operate in the region.

The United Nations says the seven-year 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 and Reuters.