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A Russian Air Force helicopter group has begun preparations
A Russian Air Force helicopter group has begun preparations for a peacekeeping mission to Chad, Air Force Commander Col. Gen. Alexander Zelin said on Friday.

Russia's defense minister Anatoly Serdyukov had earlier said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had resolved to send a helicopter group to assist an EU peacekeeping force in and along the African state's border with the war-ravaged Darfur region of Sudan.

"In line with a decision by the UN Security Council, we are preparing our aviation unit for a mission in Chad," Zelin said, adding that the group would be similar to the one currently operating in Sudan.

The first unit of Russian peacekeepers arrived in Sudan in April 2006. The Russian aviation group in Sudan currently comprises 120 personnel and four Mi-8 helicopters reequipped to UN and international standards.

The group provides transport for UN military observers in Sudan, as well as transporting and accompanying cargoes. It also carries out rescue operations.

The Russian peacekeepers are expected to stay in Sudan for 5-6 years.

Chad gained independence from France in 1960. Since 2003, Chad and Sudan have accused each other of inciting conflict on their common border, especially in the west Sudanese region of Darfur.

Chad's government said on Thursday that insurgents backed by Khartoum had launched a new offensive in the east of the country, while Sudan on Wednesday accused Chad of violating its territory at least three times since the start of April

According to international estimates, over 200,000 people have been killed and around 2.5 million displaced in the ongoing conflict.

Last month, Sudan and Chad signed an agreement in Senegal aimed at stopping hostilities between the two countries, but rebels on both sides dismissed the document as worthless.


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