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Tuesday, December 8, 1998 Published at 17:27 GMT


Hostages 'victims of bungled rescue bid'

Paul Keetch said there had been a rescue attempt

The MP for one of the four kidnapped men found dead in Chechnya has blamed the authorities there for "bungling" a rescue attempt on Monday night.

Paul Keetch, MP for Hereford, the constituency where victim Peter Kennedy lived, spoke as the company that employed the men revealed for the first time that they had been negotiating with the kidnappers.

Home Secretary Robin Cook has now pledged to discover exactly what led to the men's deaths. He has called the killings "repugnant".

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook immediately re-affirmed Government advice warning British citizens to stay away from the country - one of the most dangerous on the planet.

He added: "My first thoughts are for the families and the great distress they must be experiencing.

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy reports on the new information
"We will work hard to find the truth. We need to know what happened and what is being done to bring to justice those who committed such repugnant murders."

The Foreign Office now says "it seems almost certain" that decapitated remains discovered 25 miles outside Grozny early on Tuesday morning belong to Darren Hickey, 26, Mr Kennedy, 46, Rudolf Petschi and 58-year-old New Zealander Stanley Shaw.

Mr Keetch said: "There appears to have been a bungled rescue attempt.

[ image: Chechnya has been called the kidnap capital of the world]
Chechnya has been called the kidnap capital of the world
"There was an extraordinary statement by the chief of the Chechnya security police that they knew where the hostages were now being held.

"Anybody who knows anything about anti-terrorist operations knows this would be crazy. The first thing it would do is panic the terrorists."

Mr Keetch said he had been told of Monday's rescue attempt by two journalists "with close contacts" in the region.

He told the BBC that the men should not have been in the region, home to hundreds of kidnappings every year, and that guarantees they had been given about their security were worthless.

He said: "Questions do need to be asked.

"It is a tragic end to a very tragic tale."

'Dialogue with kidnappers'

Ray Verth, chief executive of Granger Telecom which employed the men, said the Surrey-based company had entered talks with the kidnappers in an effort to secure their release.

Ray Verth reads a statement from Granger Telecom: "Devastated to hear the news"
He said: "We had opened a dialogue with the kidnappers and received confirmation that the hostages were alive as recently as last week.

"We understand from media reports today that the Chechen authorities may have mounted a rescue attempt last night. It would appear that something went tragically wrong."

He added: "We are devastated to hear the news of the death of the four hostages.

"Their murder is an appalling and barbaric act and our thoughts go out to the families to whom we offer our deepest condolences."

Neighbour tributes

The relatives of the victims have yet to make public statements.

But neighbours of Mr Petschi in Tiverton, Devon, paid their tributes to the telecoms worker.

Jean Grabham said: "I have just heard the news and I just hope these reports are not confirmed. Rudi was a lovely man and everyone who knew him will be devastated if he is dead."

Friends said he was a kind man who took part in a charity jailbreak from Dartmoor Prison in April to raise £250 for children with cerebral palsy.

[ image: Jon James and Camilla Carr were freed in September]
Jon James and Camilla Carr were freed in September
Fellow fund-raiser Les Boyland said: "He was a really nice and generous bloke and always very polite."

In September, British aid workers Camilla Carr and Jon James, who had been kept in Chechen captivity for 443 days, were released.

Despite their safe return the Foreign Office reiterated warnings about travelling to the breakaway Russian region.

The four men were captured in a gun battle just days later.

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08 Dec 98†|†Europe
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