Bulgarian helicopter crew home after 145 days in captivity

The crew was abducted by armed men in Jan 2011 at a landing strip in Um-Shalaya.

Sofia: Three Bulgarian helicopter pilots
kidnapped in Sudan`s troubled Darfur region while working
under a UN contract returned home after 145 days in captivity.

The three appeared in good health but visibly
exhausted in neat khaki uniforms as they touched down at Sofia
airport yesterday evening, a journalist witnessed.

"We are extremely happy that we are home and will soon
join our families," crew captain Branko Chorbadzhiyski said,
thanking the United Nations and government and intelligence
officials in Sudan and Bulgaria who helped.

The crew was abducted by armed men on January 13 at a
landing strip in Um-Shalaya, 60 kilometres southeast of
El-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state.

The World Food Programme which manages the UN
Humanitarian Air Service employing the three said no ransom
was paid for their release on Monday.

"No force was used for our freeing," Chorbadzhiyski

"A general from Sudan`s intelligence services arrived
... yesterday morning, sat down with our kidnappers on a rug
in the shadow of a tree, talked for three hours and then told
us to pack and board a UN helicopter which flew in to pick us

The three said they had "no idea" why they were
kidnapped but said their abductors treated them "surprisingly
well, considered the fact that we were hostages."

"There was no violence. We still don`t know what
interests of their own these people were after but they showed
respect to us," Chorbadzhiyski said.

The pilots were allowed occasional phone calls home.

Bulgaria`s intelligence service chief Kircho Kirov,
who accompanied the crew home, and Prime Minister Boyko
Borisov, who welcomed them on the tarmac, were tight-lipped
about talks for the pilots` release, saying only they were


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