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Seven kidnapped journalists freed in southern Russia

December 31, 1997

MOSCOW (AP) _ Seven Chechen journalists were freed unharmed in Dagestan on Wednesday, a week after they were kidnapped while reporting on fighting between Chechen and Russian forces in southern Russia.

The release of the seven journalists _ all ethnic Chechens working for Russian and Western organizations _ followed talks between the abductors and authorities in the southern republic of Dagestan, Russian news agencies said.

Authorities paid no ransom and granted no concessions, the reports said.

A group calling itself the People’s Volunteer Corps of Dagestan said it was responsible for the kidnappings. The group said it would free the seven only in exchange for seven Dagestani police officers taken prisoner during recent clashes and believed to be held in neighboring Chechnya.

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

``We were kept in a basement of a house and we were treated well,″ said Ruslan Musayev, a reporter for The Associated Press and a cameraman for APTV.

After telling the journalists they would be freed, the captors blindfolded them, tied their hands and then dropped them off at a construction site in the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala.

Dagestani authorities picked them up soon afterward, Musayev said.

The journalists were seized when they crossed into neighboring Dagestan to cover a raid on Russian military outposts by Chechen guerrillas and Dagestani Muslim fundamentalists.

The freed journalists also included 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.

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

Russia and Chechnya signed a peace agreement in May, but the deal left the key question of Chechnya’s political status unresolved. The Muslim republic considers itself fully independent, while Moscow says the region remains part of Russia.

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