KANO, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria is releasing a Russian-made aircraft carrying two French military helicopters seized on an unscheduled stop in northern Nigeria, the air force said Monday.
Nigerian authorities became suspicious when an Antonov transport plane flying from Central African Republic to Chad diverted off course to Kano. It was impounded with the helicopters on Saturday, along with two French officers and 18 Russian crew members.
A statement from French Ambassador Jacques Champagne de Labriolle said the plane rerouted because of heavy air traffic at N'Djamena, the Chad capital.
He said the plane was carrying two Gazelle helicopters no longer needed for the French intervention in Central African Republic, and being redeployed to Chad to support a regional fight against terrorism. The ambassador denied reports the aircraft also was carrying weapons and ammunition.
"We are releasing the aircraft," air force spokesman Air Marshal Olusola Amosun told a news conference in Abuja, Nigeria's capital. "We have had a very good, established relationship with the French government and we do value that."
The French statement dated Sunday said two French military officers accompanied the helicopters. The Russian Embassy said it was negotiating the release of 18 Russian crew members.
The French Embassy said the aircraft had received diplomatic clearance to stop in Kano.