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Tuesday, October 6, 1998 Published at 17:19 GMT 18:19 UK

World: Europe

Hostage families meet officials

Granger Telecom may send out more engineers

The families of four men kidnapped in Chechnya have been meeting Foreign Office officials as efforts continue to secure their release.

Duncan Kennedy at the Foreign Office: "it's really a fact finding mission"
Engineers Darren Hickey, Peter Kennedy, Rudolf Petschi, and Stan Shaw, were seized from a house in the Chechen capital, Grozny, on Saturday.

A kidnap squad took them hostage after a shoot-out with their bodyguards.

[ image: Foreign Office meeting for information only]
Foreign Office meeting for information only
Foreign Office officials are stressing that the meeting is purely for information purposes, and does not signal developments in the search for the men.

"We will be explaining to them the government policy on hostage taking and, of course, answering any questions they may have," said a spokesman.

As she arrived for the meeting, Darren Hickey's sister Deborah said she bore no "resentment" towards Granger Telecom or the Foreign Office.

She hoped officials' experience with recently released hostages Camilla Carr and Jon James would help.

[ image: Checnya: Violent country with own anti-kidnap squad]
Checnya: Violent country with own anti-kidnap squad
The men are said to have ignored repeated government warnings not to go to the war-torn Russian republic, but Ms Hickey insisted her brother knew the dangers and was on his fourth visit there.

"It has only been two days but already it feels like two weeks. He is coming home, but when we don't know.

"We are looking forward to seeing the other families. We haven't had any contact with them yet, but it looks like we will be united soon."

She said her brother had liked Chechnya, its people and "the good food".

"Darren went out there to better himself by getting more experience."

Work may go on

Mr Hickey, 27, from Surrey, was one of three men who had been working for the UK firm Granger Telecom on a five year contract to install a cellular phone network in Chechnya.

New Zealand-born Mr Shaw, 58, also from Surrey and Mr Petschi, 42, from Devon were also working on the contract believed to be worth tens of millions of dollars.

Mr Kennedy, 46, from Hereford, was an independent consultant working on behalf of BT.

The work has now been suspended, although it is believed Granger Telecom has not ruled out sending further employees to continue the work.

'Don't do it'

As the Foreign Office meeting got underway, it was revealed that an anti-landmine charity has been warned by officials to withdraw its staff.

The Halo Trust currently has a handful of staff working in Chechnya.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We have spoken to the Halo Trust since this latest incident and reminded them what our advice is - don't do it.

"We can't stop people travelling, but we can let them know that the risks are too great."

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