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Tuesday, 30 July, 2002, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
Kidnaps plague Chechnya
Camilla Carr and Jon James
Kidnap victims have appeared in hostage videos

Kidnapping in Chechnya really took hold in 1990 as the Soviet Union crumbled, and reached its zenith after the end of the 1994-96 war.

In 1997 and 1998, large numbers of rebel groups - some connected to hardline Islamic organisations - used ransoms to fund their operations.


Kidnappings are a big problem tied up with the war itself

Professor Margot Light

In one of the most horrific incidents, four telecommunications engineers - three Britons and one New Zealander - were taken hostage in October 1998.

Their decapitated bodies were found months later by a road.

Since the second phase of the war began in 1999, kidnaps have diminished, says Tom de Waal, an author on the region.

But Professor Margot Light, at the London School of Economics, says that although the inter-war period was particularly bad, kidnapping still continues in Chechnya.

"It is just that kidnappings don't now involve high-profile Westerners," she told BBC News Online.

"But they are still a big problem - tied up with the war itself.

Wreckage in Grozny
Kidnap is a source of income in a ravaged economy
"Chechen civilians have been taken by the Russian military for ransom. This isn't widely publicised.

"Meanwhile, on the other side, Chechens deemed to have co-operated with the Russians are kidnapped by rebels."

But by far the greatest motivation for kidnapping remains an economic one.

"On the Chechen side, kidnappings are almost always for ransom," said Prof Light. "The economy is barely working."

The kidnaps have taken their toll on both their victims and coverage of the Chechen conflict in general.

High-profile hostages
July 1997: Aid workers Camilla Carr and Jon James. Released in September 1998
October 1998: Four foreign telecommunication workers taken; found dead two months later
January 2001: Kenny Gluck, who worked for French aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres. Released in February
July 2002: Nina Davidovich, head of Russian aid organisation Druzhba

Fear of abduction has increasingly led to foreign journalists staying away. Now, says Prof Light, "even Russian journalists don't go there, it is so dangerous".

As kidnapping became less lucrative, kidnappers have concentrated on aid workers. Now the UN has had enough.

Its pull-out, in protest at the abduction of the head of a Russian aid group that worked closely with Unicef, is extremely serious, said Mr de Waal.

"It will affect between half a million and one million people, some quite directly," he said.

He estimates that at present several dozen local people are being held by kidnappers.

But reliable figures are hard to come by, as non-partisan observers leave in response to the region's continuing lawlessness.


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29 Nov 00 | Europe
16 Mar 00 | Europe
29 Jul 02 | Europe
03 May 02 | Europe
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