Emergency teams in Kenya have rescued a Ugandan army helicopter crew that made an emergency landing in dense forests, the army has said.
"The one that made an emergency landing in the mountains has been traced, and the pilot and the crew have been rescued and are all safe," Ugandan army spokesman Felix Kulayigye told reporters on Monday.
Two other helicopters came down hard after being dispatched to strengthen peacekeeping troops in Somalia, Associated Press news agency said quoting a Ugandan military spokesman.
Col Kulayigye said in Kampala that there were no fatalities, but did not say where the helicopters landed or how many military personnel they were carrying. He said two made a “hard landing”.
Kenyan Military spokesman Bogita Ongeri earlier said that only one helicopter out of the four that left a base in Entebbe, Uganda on Sunday evening landed in Kenya, in the northern town of Garissa.
Ongeri said one of the pilots from the missing helicopters radioed from the Mount Kenya region on Monday morning and the Kenyan military launched a search and rescue operation.
Poor visibility hampered that effort, he said.
Uganda is reported to have sent both the Russian made Mi-17 transport and Mi-24 attack helicopters to Somalia. Bongita said the missing aircraft were Mi-24 helicopters, which can carry up to eight passengers.
Beefing up African Union force
Ugandan troops form the backbone of the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia. The air force last week said it would send combat and transport helicopters to Somalia to support the 17,000-strong African Union force there.
Al-Shabab struck the Ugandan capital Kampala in mid-2010 when suicide bombers from the al-Qaeda-linked group killed more than 70 people who were watching soccer on television, apparently in revenge for the presence of Ugandan troops in Somalia.
The rebels meted out similar treatment to Kenya, launching a series of grenade attacks that have killed several people, in retaliation for Nairobi sending its troops across the border last October in pursuit of al-Shabab.
The African Union force, which also includes Kenyan and Burundian troops, is planning an onslaught on Somalia's second biggest city Kismayu, which is a hub for the Islamist fighters, before August 20.
Weakened by internal divisions and financial constraints, the rebels have surrendered territory in the capital Mogadishu and central and southern Somalia where they are also battling Ethiopian forces.
A US-backed plan calls for Somalia to establish a legitimate government accepted by fractious clans and for a new parliament and constituent assembly to replace institutions plagued by corruption and infighting.
The National Constituent Assembly, sitting in Mogadishu early this month, approved a provisional constitution to replace an eight-year-old Transitional Federal Charter and lead to the end of the transition process on August 20, when the mandate of the UN-backed government expires.