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Last Updated: Friday, 16 April, 2004, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK
Iraq workers snub Russia airlift
Russians waiting for evacuation in Baghdad on Thursday, 15 April
Eight former hostages also decided to stay, their employer says
About 300 Russians and other former Soviet workers have decided to stay in Iraq, refusing to join Moscow's massive airlift operation.

Russia sent one plane for evacuation on Friday instead of four, as was previously announced, officials said.

A foreign ministry spokesman said they could not guarantee the personal safety of those who stayed, following the abduction of more than 40 foreigners.

Three Russian planes took off from Iraq on Thursday, carrying some 365 people.

Another 113 people were scheduled to leave on Friday, Russian officials said.

Former hostages stay

Evacuees included the employees of Russia's biggest contractor in Iraq, energy firm Tekhnopromexport, as well as a smaller number of businessmen, journalists and Russian women married to Iraqi nationals.

Guards at Russian embassy in Baghdad

The director of another energy firm, Interenergoservis, told Russian agencies 288 of his employees would stay.

The eight Interenergoservis employees abducted on Monday then freed chose to stay, Alexander Rybinsky was quoted as saying by Russia's Itar-Tass agency.

Mr Rybinsky also confirmed they were considering recruiting new personnel to replace those who left.

The abducted employees, five Ukrainians and three Russians, had told reporters they were freed after the gunmen discovered they worked for a company from Russia, which opposed Iraq's occupation.

Foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said they had no plans to evacuate diplomatic personnel.

"But those [contract workers] who stay there, we cannot guarantee their personal safety, and neither can the coalition forces," he added.

"Every company has to make its own choice on whether to pull out or not."

Russian firms are involved in reconstruction projects in power, transport, oil and gas sectors in Iraq.

Many of them hire cheaper workers from other former Soviet states such as Ukraine.

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