Rescuers hunt for two Ugandan helicopters in Kenya

Emergency teams on Monday searched for two Ugandan army helicopters feared to have crashed in thick forest in Kenya while flying to Somalia to support forces fighting insurgents there, officials said.

Seven Ugandan servicemen aboard a third helicopter which was part of the same mission were rescued, Kenyan army spokesman Bogita Ongeri said.

"One of the missing helicopters has been located. It had seven people on board. Only one of them sustained slight injuries," Ongeri told AFP.

He said the pilot had managed to make an emergency landing in the central Mount Kenya region and radioed for help.

However, nothing has been heard from two other helicopters -- Russian-made Mi-24 helicopter gunships like the one that was located -- which are believed to have either crashed or crash-landed in the same thickly forested region.

Ugandan army spokesman Felix Kulayigye told reporters they had "yet to confirm the whereabouts of the other two (helicopters) with 10 people on board."

A Mi-17 transport helicopter which had taken off from Uganda on Sunday as part of the same mission, landed without problems in the eastern Kenyan town of Garissa near the Somali border for a scheduled refuelling stop.

"Four choppers left Uganda, one landed in Garissa," said Ongeri.

"A search and rescue team has been dispatched. As of now we do not know that they have crashed... The terrain and weather are unfavourable."

The Russian-made Mi-24 is used as an attack helicopter but can also carry up to eight passengers.

The area were the aircraft are feared to have come down is mountainous terrain dominated by snowcapped Mount Kenya, Africa's second highest peak at 5,199 metres (17,057 feet).

Wild animals including elephants, leopard and rhino prowl the forests, about 110 kilometers (70 miles) north of the capital Nairobi.

In 2007, after a helicopter crashed in a similar area, it took rescue teams eight days to track down the pilot, who had survived by eating leaves and drinking his urine.

Uganda provides around a third of the nearly 17,000-strong African Union force fighting Islamist Shebab forces in Somalia that have been linked to al-Qaeda. The government in Kampala said last week it would send combat and transport helicopters to the Horn of Africa country.

Kenya invaded southern Somalia last year to attack Shebab bases across its eastern border, before later joining the AU force.

It has deployed its own air force -- including attack helicopters and fighter jets -- to bombard Shebab positions.

The aircraft are seen as key to adding to gains made against the hardline Shebab insurgents, who have fled a string of stronghold towns in recent months, stretching AU military resources over a far wider zone.

Somalia's weak and corruption-ridden transitional government -- in power for eight years -- is due to be replaced later this month via a UN-backed process in which elders will select new leaders.

Bowed down by repeated droughts and riven by over two decades of conflict, Somalia is torn between rival clans, Islamist insurgents and the government, which is propped up by the AU force.

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