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Captured Apache pilots shown on TV

Baghdad, March 25 (Reuters) : Iraqi television showed film yesterday of the two pilots of a US Apache helicopter that was downed after attacking an elite Republican Guard division southwest of Baghdad.

The captured men, who both appeared to be in good health, were wearing khaki overalls and remained silent on camera, looking sombre and slightly uneasy.

The television showed their identity papers, including a Texas driving licence, and their credit cards. It said the helicopter was shot down by a farmer, a claim the US military denied without saying what caused it to come down in a field.

“The heroic farmer Ali Obeid-Mingash shot down the Apache with his rifle. These are the two American pilots who were sent by the little Bush to the inferno of death,” the report said, referring to US President George W. Bush.

In Washington, the Pentagon identified the two men as Chief Warrant Officer David Williams, 30, of Florida, and Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Young Jr., 26, of Lithia Springs, Georgia. Williams’ hometown was not identified. Both pilots were based at Fort Hood, Texas, a Pentagon statement said.

Young’s mother, Kay, told CNN in an interview at her home in Georgia that she thought her son looked good.

“He looks like he always looks when he is angry,” she said, after being shown a copy of the Iraqi footage. “He’s a tough soldier and he believes in what he’s doing. He wanted to go.”

“It felt like the top of my head was going to come off,” Kay said after seeing the video.

The pilots’ appearance came just a day after Iraq paraded on television five US soldiers believed to have been captured after an ambush near the southeastern town of Nasiriyah.

Television also showed the bloodied corpses of up to eight US servicemen allegedly killed in the encounter.

US officials denounced the footage as “disgusting” and said the questioning of the five captives on television flouted the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) yesterday said that both sides in the war had defied the Geneva Convention by allowing pictures of prisoners to be aired on television.

The twin-engine Apache is the US army’s primary attack helicopter and one of the world’s most effective.

Earlier yesterday, Iraqi television showed pictures of the grounded Apache sitting in a field next to a group of jubilant farmers waving old-fashioned guns in the air.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has promised to give any Iraqi who shoots down a US or British helicopter 50 million dinars (worth around $16,500 on the black market).

The Apache shown on Iraqi television appeared to be in good condition and was said to have come down near the city of Karbala, 110 km from the capital.

US military officials said the helicopter had taken part in strikes against the Republican Guard’s Medina Division, which is dug in and defending Baghdad’s southern flanks.

The two pilots were seen seated, drinking tea and water. One nibbled briefly at a biscuit. The pair did not face any on-camera questioning.

“These two pilots are now prisoners of war and are being treated as prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva Convention. We as Iraqis respect the Geneva Convention and human rights,” the television report said.

The Pentagon said it is now officially listing the pilots as PoWs.

Helicopter destroyed

US forces have successfully destroyed the army AH-64 Apache attack helicopter that went down during fighting south of Baghdad, officials with the US Central Command said today.

Sandstorms limited visibility earlier today, initially making it difficult for US forces to confirm they had hit the helicopter, preventing Iraq from seizing any of the sophisticated targeting equipment and weapons aboard.

The prompt release of information about the missing helicopter crew contrasted with the silence that American military officials maintained for the second straight day about Army soldiers who were ambushed on Sunday by Iraqi fighters.

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