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Kidnapped Russia Journalists Freed

December 31, 1997

MOSCOW (AP) _ Seven journalists kidnapped in southern Russia last week were freed unharmed today, Russian news agencies reported.

Sources in the Dagestan Interior Ministry said the journalists were released without conditions, Russia’s ITAR-Tass and Interfax news agencies reported.

The journalists, all based in Chechnya, were seized after they crossed into neighboring Dagestan on Dec. 24 to cover a raid by Chechen guerrillas and Dagestani Muslim fundamentalists on Russian military outposts.

Despite the end of Chechnya’s two-year independence war with Russia, the region remains plagued by kidnappings and general lawlessness. Most cases involve Chechens kidnapping ethnic Russians or foreigners and seeking ransoms.

But the missing journalists, all ethnic Chechens, were apparently seized by Dagestanis as an act of revenge.

A group calling itself the People’s Volunteer Corps of Dagestan claimed responsibility for seizing the journalists and said it would only free them in exchange for seven Dagestani police officers taken prisoner during the Dec. 24 raid and believed to be held in Chechnya.

There was no indication today that the Dagestani police officers had been released.

According to officials, the journalists freed today were: Ruslan Musayev, who works as a cameraman for APTV and a reporter for The Associated Press; Arbi Zubairayev of Russia’s NTV network; Umar Magomadov of Russia’s ORT television network; Aslambek Dadayev of Britain’s WTN; and Alkha Tasuyev and Ayub Vedzizhev of Reuters.

The seventh reporter, who works for Chechnya’s official Chechen Press news agency, has not been identified.

Russia and Chechnya signed a peace agreement in May, but the deal left the thorny issue of Chechnya’s political status unresolved. The Muslim republic considers itself fully independent, while Moscow _ which has little influence in Chechnya _ says the region remains part of Russia.

Update hourly