TBILISI, DFWatch–Two Mi-24 military helicopters with a combined crew of at least four crashed on Friday in North Kivu province near the border with Rwanda and Uganda, authorities reported on Monday.
Tbilisi based military magazine Arsenal wrote that both helicopters belonged to the military of Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), but the crew one of the helicopters was Georgian, while the crew of the second one consisted by Belarusian personnel.
Arsenal reports that the Georgian crew made an emergency landing, while the helicopter with the Belarusian crew crashed, but the circumstances are unclear. Both pilots were hospitalized, the magazine reported.
DF Watch has spoken to the press office of Georgia’s Defense Ministry which confirmed the basic facts of the accident, but emphasized that Georgian crew is not employees of the ministry and are not participating in Georgia’s peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic or Mali; they are fighting there on private contracts.
“It’s outside of the ministry’s competence to comment on this incident, but I can confirm that they are Georgian citizens who have been independently serving in Congo since 2004. As there is great interest regarding the health conditions of the Georgian citizens, we checked, and can confirm that they are alive and feeling sound and safe,” the ministry press office told DF Watch.
DRC government spokesman Lambert Mende told Reuters it was not clear what brought down the Russian produced Mi-24 helicopters on Friday.
United Nations (UN) sponsored Radio Okapi reported that three crew members of one of the aircraft, all of Russian nationality, and two Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) officers are rescued, while four crew members are missing.
Radio Okapi reported, based on military sources, that the helicopters crashed while pursuing fighters from the former Congolese rebel group M23, one of the largest armed groups among dozens in the country, which controlled huge strips of eastern Congo in 2012 and 2013 before it was defeated by Congolese and UN forces.
Georgia has been participating in the EU-led peacekeeping mission in Africa since June 2014 and parliament later increased the number of soldiers serving in the EU military training mission in the Central African Republic (EUTM RCA) from five to 20.