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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Russian pilots fly Sudan MIGs in Darfour missions

MOSCOW — Sudan has been using Russian pilots to fly its new MiG-29 fleet.

Russian sources said the regime of Sudanese President Omar Bashir has been using former and current Russian Air Force pilots to fly Khartoum's fleet of MiG-29 fighter-jets. The sources said the pilots have participated in operations against rebels in both the Darfour province as well as around Khartoum in May 2008.

"There were significant problems in the effectiveness of Sudanese MiG pilots," a Russian source said. "With the new planes came Russian training and advisers, who also served as pilots."

The sources said one of the Russian pilots was killed in the downing of a MiG-29 Fulcrum jet in the Khartoum suburb of Omdurman. They said a former Russian Air Force pilot was flying the MiG in a mission against the rebel Justice and Equality Movement during its advance on the Sudanese capital.

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"We believe he was shot down by a SAM [surface-to-air] missile," the Russian source said.

The Moscow-based Interfax news agency confirmed the killing of the Russian pilot in Omdurman. Interfax said the pilot, dismissed by the Russian Air Force, served as a foreign adviser to the Sudanese Air Force.

Interfax did not identify the pilot. The news agency said the Russian pilot was not connected to the Russian military mission in Sudan.

The Russian sources said Russian pilots have been flying the 14 MiG-29s since their arrival in Khartoum around 2006. The sources said the MiG-29s were used as part of the effort by the regime of President Omar Bashir to quell the rebellion in Darfour.

Russian analysts have asserted that the fourth-generation Fulcrum was equivalent to the U.S.-origin F-15 fighter. The MiG-29 has been equipped with the advanced R-73 Archer and R-77 Adder air-to-air missiles.

The Sudanese military was said to receive most of its assistance from China and former republics of the Soviet Union. The United States has imposed a weapons embargo on Khartoum.

On Wednesday, U.S. envoy to Sudan, Richard Williamson, arrived in Khartoum at the head of a State Department and CIA delegation. The delegation was said to be discussing ways to remove obstacles toward full U.S. diplomatic relations with Khartoum.

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