KHARTOUM - Rebels in Sudan's Darfur have freed two Ukrainians and a Sudanese held captive since early August after their helicopter made an emergency landing, their employer said on Wednesday.
Babikir Gasmelkhalig, owner of Dindir Aviation, told AFP the crew were released on Tuesday evening.
But he added that rebels from the Sudan Liberation Army's Minni Minnawi faction were still holding their helicopter.
Gasmelkhalig said the three men were fine and were at a hotel in the South Darfur state capital Nyala.
The African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) said earlier that the Mi-8 helicopter had been contracted by the mission to deliver supplies and was not carrying UN markings when it went down on August 3 southeast of Nyala.
Officials with the rebel group could not immediately comment and UNAMID had no information on the release.
"The Sudanese foreign ministry has just now confirmed that the crew of the Mi-8 helicopter, including two citizens of Ukraine..., were released last night," a spokesman for the Ukrainian foreign ministry told reporters in Kiev.
The spokesman added that the Ukrainian crew members were now staying in Nyala city under the protection of the Sudanese security forces.
Hussein Minnawi, a member of the Minnawi group's political bureau, earlier told AFP that an investigation was underway and if the helicopter were proven to belong to a private firm and not the government, he expected it to be released.
Gasmelkhalig said the rebels asked for ransom "but we didn't pay for them."
He said the helicopter may have had to make its emergency landing because of "some shooting" from the ground.
Minnawi rebels and others fighting for a decade against the government in Sudan's far-west have periodically detained soldiers and others.
Government-linked militia and paramilitary groups are also suspected to have carried out many kidnappings, carjackings and other crimes in Darfur.
While the helicopter crew was freed, two Sudanese employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross remained captured by unknown gunmen in Darfur, where violence has worsened this year.
Eight Sudanese ICRC staff were detained by the gunmen on Monday in Central Darfur state, the ICRC announced on Tuesday.
It said six were later freed but as of Wednesday the two others had not been let go.