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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechens Offer To Swap Captive Energy Workers

Chechen fighters holding 29 Russian energy workers kidnapped in Grozny are offering to exchange them for fighters captured by Russian forces during the siege of Pervomaiskoye last week, Interfax reported Monday.

Semyon Lashchenov, vice president of Russia's Unified Energy System, told Interfax that Grozny power station officials had contacted Salman Raduyev's "Lone Wolf" group, which carried out the Dagestan hostage-taking, and learned of their intention to swap the hostages for captured Chechen fighters.

Ruslan Martagov, chief spokesman for the Moscow-backed Chechen government, told the news agency that a delegation of elders and Grozny officials had begun talks with the rebels holding the hostages. "The reports we have received indicate that all the energy workers taken hostage are alive and well," he said.

Martagov added that the hostages, who seemingly vanished without a trace after their seizure last Tuesday, are being held in groups of two or three in various villages in the Gudermes and Vedeno regions by fighters led by Ruslan Gelayev, Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev's field commander.

Until Monday's announcement, virtually nothing had been heard of the energy workers since their disappearance from Grozny's central power station. No one took responsibility for the kidnapping, and no demands for ransom were made. Rumors circulated that the workers may even have simply gone on strike.

An unconfirmed earlier report put the hostages in the Chechen village of Yermolovka, but correspondents for Izvestia who visited the village wrote Saturday: "We found no hostages: Either they were not there, or [their captors] managed to take them somewhere else."

Russian authorities had made no headway in locating the hostages until Martagov's announcement, and a spokesman for the Federal Security Service still maintained Monday that "this question is being resolved on the spot, and thus far we have no information about the hostages."

According to Unified Energy System statements, 28 of the energy workers came to Chechnya from the Rostov region in January to help restore the city's Power Plant No. 2, while the remaining one was a resident of Grozny. Lashchenov said that a decision had been made to send no more specialists to help repair the republic's electrical system until the 29 were set free.