January 29, 2015 / 9:54 AM / 3 years ago

Sudan rebels to free Bulgarian aid workers this week: air carrier

SOFIA (Reuters) - Six Bulgarian aid workers detained by Sudanese rebels after their helicopter made an emergency landing in a war-torn part of Sudan are expected to be freed on Thursday or Friday at the latest, the aircraft’s operator said.

The three-member crew of the helicopter and three officers of Sofia-based Heli Air were taken into custody in South Kordofan province on Wednesday. All six are working with the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP).

”There is an opportunity for them to be released today,“ Georgi Spasov, board chairman of Heli Air, the helicopter’s operator, told Bulgarian media after a phone conversation with detainees. ”If this does not happen today, they will be released tomorrow at the latest.

“They (six Bulgarians) are in good condition,” added Spasov. “We have not spoken about a ransom; we have not even considered such option. They are in a camp, and those who detained them checked on the mission they were performing and what kind of equipment was in the helicopter.”

Mubarak Ardol, a spokesman for the rebels, told Reuters on Wednesday: “We are currently in contact with the U.N. and the WFP to organize their release.”

The helicopter flight was scheduled from South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan in 2011, to the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

Fighting between the Khartoum government and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) rebels has increased in South Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces since peace talks collapsed in December.

Heli Air’s helicopters have supported WFP operations in conflict-ridden countries such as Sudan, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Somalia since 1997.

Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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