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Friday, 4 February, 2000, 11:38 GMT
Liberty journalist handed to Chechens

Babitsky tv still The broadcast as seen on Russian TV


By Peter Biles in Moscow

Russian television has shown the first pictures of the journalist, Andrei Babitsky, being handed over by Russian forces to Chechen rebels.

He had been detained by the Russians for more than two weeks, allegedly for working in Chechnya without accreditation.

Mr Babitsky, who works for the American-funded radio station, Radio Liberty, has been exchanged for two Russian soldiers who were being held by the Chechens

The American State Department said that such a handover was "unacceptable".

Apparent good health

But now, Russian television has broadcast pictures that show Mr Babitsky during the swap with the two Russian soldiers who'd been held captive by Chechen rebels.

The video was filmed on Thursday by the Russian security services, apparently on a road in Chechnya.

Mr Babitsky is seen walking, and appears to have been in good health.

The Russians claim that the Chechen militants had suggested the exchange and that Mr Babitsky had agreed to it in writing - although there is no confirmation of this.

Free to leave?

Once in the hands of the Chechens, Mr Babitsky should be free to leave Chechnya immediately.

But Radio Liberty has said it believes the whole affair is a move by Russia to discredit its correspondent in the eyes of the public.

Prior to his arrest by the Russians, Mr Babitsky had spent several months working as a journalist in Chechnya, often behind rebel lines.

This had angered Russian officials who have tried to maintain tight control over the movement of journalists throughout the current war in Chechnya.

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See also:
03 Feb 00 |  Europe
Chechen rebels 'set up mountain base'
31 Jan 00 |  Europe
US to press Russia over Chechnya

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