Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Held Soldiers Urge End to Fighting

GROZNY -- Russian servicemen held hostage by Chechen rebels appealed to fellow soldiers not to fight in the war in breakaway Chechnya, and accused the government of ignoring their plight.

"Whoever wants to come here, let them come. But I would say, stay away boys. You will end up like us. Nobody cares. Sooner or later they'll kill us and then blame it on the Chechens,'' one hostage, interviewed Sunday in a rebel mountain hideout, told Associated Press TV.

He was one of 17 Interior Ministry troops held by rebel commander Salman Raduyev, whose group escaped an all-out Russian attack on the village of Pervomaiskoye in neighboring Dagestan on Jan. 18.

Five of the 17 reportedly were released Monday night because they were lightly wounded. Interfax cited Dagestan's deputy Interior Minister, Valery Beyev, saying the men were handed over to Dagestani authorities in Chechnya with no preconditions.

The rebels have repeatedly said they are ready to exchange the servicemen, who had surrendered in Pervomaiskoye, for their own fighters captured by Russian troops.

Rebel spokesman Movladi Ugudov told Itar-Tass on Monday that the exchange could take place as soon as the Russians agree to an "all for all" swap.

There has been no formal response from federal authorities, and negotiations to free the hostages have been conducted by Dagestani officials. The rebels have demanded the presence of Russian military representatives. Talks resumed Monday after an inconclusive round last week, Interfax said.

The captives, sent to Chechnya from Novosibirsk in Siberia, were being held in the snow-covered southern mountains. They said they felt abandoned.

"The president has written us off and declared a day of mourning in Novosibirsk although the 17 of us are still alive, at least for now," the hostage serviceman said on condition of anonymity.

Another, who also declined to give his name, said Russians were not aware what kind of war has been waged for nearly 14 months.

"They show the Chechens as bandits who kill indiscriminately and they show us the Russians as the good guys," he said. "But if you take a closer look, see how we flatten villages with rocket launchers and kill the innocent or detain them in concentration camps ... Well, you change your mind pretty quickly."

On Sunday, Russia's prosecutor general said billions of rubles (millions of dollars) have been siphoned off funds earmarked for the reconstruction of war-torn Chechnya.

Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov, addressing a news conference at the end of a visit to Grozny, said "many billions of rubles" were stolen from federal funds for Chechnya's rebuilding.

The report said theft has been particularly blatant in the agencies handling construction, health, agriculture and community services.

Top Russian officials, from President Boris Yeltsin on down, have repeatedly announced major programs to rebuild Chechnya, but there has been little evidence of reconstruction outside of rail lines and some oil-related facilities important to Russian interests as a whole.

On Monday, Nizhny Novgorod Governor Boris Nemtsov told Interfax that Yeltsin is ready to publish his concept for an end to military operations in the near future. During a Kremlin meeting with Nemtsov, Yeltsin told the governor that he had been "thinking a lot about how to end this war," Nemtsov told Interfax.

During the meeting, he handed over to Yeltsin an appeal which he said was signed by 1 million residents of his region, demanding an end to the war.

In Grozny, rebel spokesman Udugov also proposed a new round of talks to end the war. The Azerbaijani news agency Turan quoted Udugov as proposing that Moscow be represented by ex-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, liberal economist Grigory Yavlinsky and retired General Boris Gromov.

Udugov called them "sensible politicians, realists able to speed up the adoption of a political decision on stopping the ... war," Turan reported.

Russia on Sunday issued an arrest warrant for Raduyev, Interfax reported. He is the third leading Chechen rebel to join Moscow's wanted list. The other two, separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev and Shamil Basayev, who masterminded a previous mass hostage-taking last June, are still at large.