updated 1/18/2008 2:18:20 PM ET 2008-01-18T19:18:20

A Russian man who killed a Swiss air traffic controller he blamed for a plane crash in which his wife and children died was appointed Friday to a high-level government post in his southern Russian province.

The North Ossetia government approved Vitaly Kaloyev as the region's construction and architecture minister, said Yevgeny Rodionov, the region's construction minister.

"He didn't agree to it immediately. We spoke a month ago, and he went back and forth but finally today he agreed to it," Rodionov told NTV.

Kaloyev, 51, was convicted in Switzerland in October 2005 of killing Peter Nielsen, a Danish controller with Swiss company Skyguide, and was sentenced to five-and-a-quarter years in prison. He was released in November under an order by Switzerland's highest court.

Ordeal brings support, sympathy
Nielsen had been the only person on duty on July 1, 2002, when the Russian plane, operated by Bashkirian Airlines, collided with a DHL cargo jet in airspace he had been responsible for over southern Germany. The crash killed 71 people, mostly schoolchildren on a holiday trip to Spain.

Kaloyev was working in Spain at the time, and his wife and two children were on their way to visit him.

He was freed in accordance with Swiss legislation that allows early release of convicted criminals for good behavior after they complete two-thirds of a sentence.

Kaloyev's ordeal has brought him widespread sympathy in Russia.

In September, four Skyguide employees were found guilty of negligent homicide in a separate case examining the events that led to the crash. Their punishments ranged from a one-year suspended prison sentence to fines.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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