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Tuesday, October 13, 1998 Published at 22:17 GMT 23:17 UK

World: Europe

Hostages alive, says Chechen president

President Maskhadov greeted by Solidarity MP Maciej Jankowski

The BBC's Damian Grammaticus: "Kidnapping has become commonplace in Chechnya"
The president of Chechnya says four telephone engineers kidnapped in Chechnya 10 days ago are alive, but that he does not know where they are being held.

The three Britons and one New Zealander were abducted from the Chechen capital, Grozny, following a shoot-out between their bodyguards and a gang of kidnappers.

[ image: Kidnapped engineers:  Stanley Shaw (top left), Rudolf Petschi (top right), Darren Hickey (bottom right),  and Peter Kennedy]
Kidnapped engineers: Stanley Shaw (top left), Rudolf Petschi (top right), Darren Hickey (bottom right), and Peter Kennedy
President Aslan Maskhadov, speaking in the Polish capital, Warsaw, said the men were safe and well.

He said Chechen security forces were doing all they could to discover where they were being held and by whom, but had so far been unsuccessful.

A BBC correspondent in Warsaw, James Coomarasamy, says the Chechen leader denied claims that the engineers had been working in Chechnya officially for a government-run telecommunications company.

He said the first he had known of their presence was when they were captured.

Their abduction came just a fortnight after the release of two British aid workers who were held hostage in Chechnya for 15 months.

A spokesman for Chechnya's security ministry reported last week that the hostages were safe, but said no demands or conditions for their release had been set.

The hostages - Britons Peter Kennedy, Darren Hickey, and Rudolf Petschi, and New Zealand's Stanley Shaw - were kidnapped on 3 October while working for Granger Telecom, a British telephone company, installing 300,000 telephone lines across Chechnya.

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

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