Four Russian journalists, not two as reported earlier, were abducted in Djohar-gala on March 4. The victims have been identified as Radio Russia correspondents Nikolai Mamulashvili and Yuri Arkhipov, Radio Russia’s satellite telephone engineer Lev Zeltser, and Itar-Tass correspondent Nikolai Zagnoiko. (Interfax, Itar-Tass, March 5) Ten days ago Mauro Galligani, an Italian photographer working for the Mondadori publishing house, was abducted in the center of Djohar-gala; he has not been heard from since.
Kidnapping journalists has become a way of life in Chechnya. Two ORT correspondents kidnapped on the eve of the republic’s presidential elections were not freed for several weeks. Deputy Russian Security Council secretary Boris Berezovsky, who mediated their release, said no ransom was involved, but criminal groups in Chechnya insist that Berezovsky paid $500,000 for the release of each ORT journalist. (NTV, March 5)
The Chechen authorities blame all the kidnappings on the machinations of forces who have no interest in seeing peace come to the republic and have advised Russian journalists to stay away from Chechnya until a peace settlement is reached with Moscow. This time, the Kremlin has also adopted the Chechen interpretation. Security Council press secretary Igor Ignatiev said the kidnappings were part of a campaign against Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov and the peace process. He said the campaign was heating up because agreements are being drafted that will finally put an end to the long confrontation in the Caucasus. (Interfax, March 5) But the abductions can also be explained in more prosaic terms. The conviction that a large ransom was paid for the ORT journalists and the fact that no kidnapper has yet been arrested must make kidnapping look like a lucrative and attractive business in a war-ravaged republic still awash with weapons.
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