Five Polish aid workers kidnapped in Chechnya last December have been released by Chechnya’s National Security Service. They were freed in a dawn raid yesterday on a house in the northern suburbs of Grozny. No one was harmed and no shots were fired. Two men have been arrested. The hostages are said to be thinner than before but in good health. Like other hostages, they had been moved to a new hiding place every week. Some fifty other hostages are being held in Chechnya, including two Swedish missionaries, two British aid workers, two Hungarians and a Turkish businessman.
The Chechen authorities appear now to be determined to crack down on the hostage business, giving rise to hopes that other hostages may soon be freed. Lecha Khultygov, newly appointed head of Chechnya’s National Security Service, said that when he took up his post on January 12, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov told him to make freeing the hostages his top priority, and that Maskhadov was briefed daily on release efforts. Grozny has accused the Russian authorities of being behind the kidnappings. The BBC, however, quoted the freed Polish hostages as saying they saw nothing to indicate Russian involvement. The Poles said they will remain in Chechnya to continue their humanitarian work. (Itar-Tass, BBC, Reuter, February 9)
In a separate development, two people were arrested yesterday in North Ossetia on suspicion of involvement in last month’s kidnapping of Vincent Cochetel, a French citizen who headed the UN High Commissioner for Refugees mission in Vladikavkaz. There was, however, no news of Cochetel’s fate. (RTR, February 7)
Also in Vladikavkaz yesterday, North Ossetian President Alexander Dzasokhov and Ingush President Ruslan Aushev met to discuss ways of resolving the ongoing territorial dispute between their two republics that has rendered thousands homeless. Dzasokhov’s election to the presidency last month has breathed fresh life into efforts to find a peaceful resolution of the conflict over Prigorodny District. (Itar-Tass, February 9)
A Surprising Nuclear Announcement from Belarus.