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Siberian airline employees kidnapped at gunpoint in Sudan

By Derek Lambie
04 February 2015

Ransom demanded for two UTair staff seized in ambush on UN contract work.

From left to right: Mikhail Antyufeev, 26, from St. Petersburg, a manager and translator and Sergei Cherepanov, 54, from Berezovo, in Khanty-Mansiysk district, an aircraft technician. Picture: LifeNews

Two employees of Siberian airline UTair have been kidnapped during an aid mission in Sudan.

The Russian nationals, who were working on a contract for UNAMID, the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur, were taken at gunpoint on January 29.

They were named as Sergei Cherepanov, 54, from Berezovo, in Khanty-Mansiysk district,  an aircraft technician, and Mikhail Antyufeev, 26, from St. Petersburg, a manager and translator.

Both had previous experience in Africa. 

Reports from the region say they were attacked by several armed men wearing masks as they travelled in a UN minibus without security in the town of Zalingei. An as-yet undisclosed ransom has been demanded by their kidnappers, but Russian government officials refused initially to comment on the situation.

For five days UTair led independent negotiations for the release of the men. When this failed they sought official help. 

Anatoly Antyufeev, father of the younger man, told LifeNews: 'Last time we talked to Mikhail was on 25 January. As always, he assured us that he's fine and was going to the market. And on the 29th,  UTair contacted with his wife and said that Mikhail was kidnapped.'

Representatives of the airline in telephone conversations asked Mikhail's parents parents not to worry, assuring them that negotiations are ongoing. Relatives asked them why this kidnapping was not initially covered in the press and were told that negotiations were conducted on an informal basis.

It is the latest kidnapping to take place in the volatile Central Darfur region, with foreign UN aid and peacekeeping workers particularly vulnerable.

Utair kidnapping

'Last time we talked to Mikhail was on 25 January. As always, he assured us that he's fine and was going to the market. And on the 29th,  UTair contacted with his wife and said that Mikhail was kidnapped.' Picture: Vkontakte

In a press statement UTair, which operates from its headquarters in Khanty-Mansiysk, said its staff were travelling in a minibus that was blocked in by six vehicles on the road.

A spokesperson added: '[They] were abducted by unknown persons in the town of Zalingei at around 10.30am on 29 January. The passengers, who were held at gunpoint, were forced to leave the bus and were taken in an unknown direction.' 

Farhan Haq, a spokesperson for the UN Secretary General, said: 'We will not make any official statements on the details of the abduction, or the nationality of the detainees given the sensitive efforts to obtain their safe release.'

However Artur Safukov, the press-attach of the Russian Embassy in Sudan, has confirmed the pair were Russian nationals, as has the Governor of Central Darfur, Jaafar Abdelhakam.

A source said: 'The kidnappers told UNAMID that they await a ransom for the release of their employees. UNAMID workers have been kidnapped in Darfur several times, and the government has warned against paying ransoms to avoid the recurrence of such incidents.'

Conflict has raged in Sudan's Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile regions for the past four years, forcing more than 200,000 to flee their homes. Massive refugee camps have sprung up in the southern part of the country and into neighbouring Ethiopia, prompting the aid efforts by the United Nations.

In addition to being one of Siberia's leading airlines - and the third largest in Russia - UTair has a contract to assist in relief missions for the UN.

UTair was established initially as Tyumenaviatrans Aviation (TUT) in the wake of the break-up of Aeroflot in 1991 before adopting its current name and livery in 2003. It is owned by a mixture of Russian shareholders and companies, foreign investors, and local government administrations, with two per cent owned by the State.

Officials at the Russian Embassy in Sudan are working with the airline and insist 'all necessary measures' are being taken to release the men.

 

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