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Chechnya negotiates for release of kidnapped journalists

December 30, 1997

MOSCOW (AP) _ Seven journalists kidnapped last week in southern Russia have been found and will be released Wednesday, officials in Russia’s Dagestan region said.

Dagestan Nationalities Minister Saleh Gusayev would not say Tuesday which group had seized them or where in Dagestan they were being held, but said all seven were ``feeling fine and kept in good condition″ and would be freed.

The reporters, all Chechens, 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.

The seven Chechen journalists were apparently taken by Dagestanis as an act of revenge.

A group calling itself the People’s Volunteer Corps of Dagestan called Russia’s NTV television Thursday to claim it was holding all seven newsmen. The group said it would free them only in exchange for seven Dagestani police officers taken prisoner Dec. 24, ITAR-Tass said. They are believed to be held in Chechnya.

The journalists, according to ITAR-Tass, include Ruslan Musayev, a cameraman for APTV and a reporter for The Associated Press; Aukh Tasuyev and Ayub Vedzizhev of Reuters; Arbi Zubairayev of Russia’s NTV; Umar Magomadov of Russia’s ORT; and Aslambek Dadayev of Britain’s WTN.

The seventh reporter, who belongs to Chechnya’s official Chechen Press news agency, hasn’t been identified.

Chechen Press chief Khamid Khatueyv told ITAR-Tass that Chechen Interior Ministry officials traveled to Dagestan on Tuesday to discuss steps to release the journalists.

Russia and Chechnya signed a peace agreement in May, but it left Chechnya’s political status unresolved. The Muslim republic considers itself fully independent, while Moscow _ which cannot control the situation in Chechnya _ says the region remains part of Russia.

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