Ukraine, Congo Pilots Freed In D.R. Congo: Red Cross

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo -- A rebel group released a Ukrainian pilot and his Congolese colleague kidnapped in the Democratic Republic of Congo more than three weeks ago, the Red Cross said Saturday.

A Congolese soldier watches a UN helicopter take off from Walikale in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Ukrainian, 56, and his 34-year-old DR Congo co-pilot were freed on Friday, said the International Committee of the Red Cross, which collected the men in the Nord-Kivu province on the border with Rwanda and Uganda.

They "are very, very tired by the conditions which they have been through", a representative told AFP.

They had been held in the forest by Mai Mai militants who had agreed to free them and two unidentified injured people "without conditions", the official said.

The pilots were captured on September 1 after their plane was attacked by Mai Mai and Rwandan Hutu rebels shortly after landing at Kilambo, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the town of Walikale.

The identities of the two injured people were not known and the Red Cross could not confirm if they were passengers who were also kidnapped in the attack.

The rebels had also targeted another plane during the attack but the crew and three passengers working for an NGO fled into the jungle.

Two rebels were killed in subsequent fighting with government troops.

The Kilambo airstrip, which has been closed since the incident, is used by small planes to transport the mineral cassiterite from the nearby Bisie mine to Goma, the capital of the turbulent Nord-Kivu region.

The DR Congo government announced this month a crackdown on insurgents in the resource-rich northeast of the country, which is a major source of cassiterite and coltan, the minerals used in the West to build telephones, computers and games consoles.

Source: AFP