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Thursday, October 8, 1998 Published at 17:55 GMT 18:55 UK

World: Europe

Chechnya hostages 'alive and well'

The shattered city of Grozny: Ripe territory for kidnappers

A report that four engineers kidnapped in Chechnya are "alive and well" has been cautiously welcomed by the UK Foreign Office.

A spokesman for Chechnya's Security Ministry reported that they were safe, but said no demands or conditions for their release had been set.

Britons Darren Hickey, 27, Peter Kennedy, 46, Rudolf Petschi, 42, and New Zealand-born Stan Shaw, 58, were seized in Grozny by 20 armed men on 3 October.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "If it's true it's very good news but we've had no corroboration."

Work suspended

Mr Hickey from Thames Ditton, Surrey, Mr Shaw, also from Surrey, and Mr Petschi, from Cullompton, Devon, were working on a five-year contract for Granger Telecom to set up a cellular telephone network in the breakaway Russian republic.

Mr Kennedy, from Hereford, was working in Grozny as an independent consultant for British Telecom.

The work of laying more than 300,000 lines for Chechen Telecom, believed to be worth tens of millions of dollars, has been suspended since the four men were kidnapped.

Mr Hickey's sister Deborah said she believed her brother would be returned safely after a special briefing at the Foreign office on Tuesday.

"We all came out of there feeling a million times better than we did when we went in," she said.

High number of kidnappings

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov is meeting with parliamentary deputies on Thursday to discuss the current political crisis in the republic.

The high number of kidnappings of Russian, Chechen and foreign nationals is believed to be exacerbating the unstable political situation.

British teachers Camilla Carr and John James, who were also kidnapped in Chechnya, were released unharmed in September after 15 months in captivity.

However a Russian envoy who was kidnapped in late September was found murdered three days later.

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