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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

5 Polish Workers Grabbed in Chechnya




Kidnappers have seized five Polish aid volunteers in the Russian breakaway region of Chechnya, and Warsaw will send an envoy there to deal with the case, Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek said Tuesday.


The five young men, working for a Polish-Chechen friendship society and delivering aid, were abducted after meeting Chechen former president Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev on Dec. 17, Geremek saiod at a news conference.


"We only know the five were kidnapped. They arrived in Chechnya on Dec. 14, and on Dec. 17 they went to meet former president Yandarbiyev. They were kidnapped after the meeting," he said in Warsaw.


The news emerged just one day after the region was rattled by an attack by heavily armed fighters on an army outpost in Southern Russia near the Chechen border. The incident could call into doubt a visit by President Boris Yeltsin to the breakaway Chechen republic, a senior aide said Tuesday.


At least 120 men were involved in the attack on the Buinaksk tank battalion in the Russian republic of Dagestan early Monday, according to a Defense Ministry report cited by Interfax. The attackers reportedly escaped into Chechnya with some hostages.


At least two civilians were reported killed in the fighting.


Yeltsin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said Tuesday "it is obvious that this sort of action could influence plans" by the Kremlin chief to visit Chechnya next month. But "for the moment, these plans remain unchanged," he said.


The Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday confirmed the earlier abduction of the Polish aid workers and repeated an appeal to foreigners to stay away from the breakaway region.


"The relevant Russian organizations have been informed of [the abduction] and are taking necessary steps to free the hostages," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.


Chechnya, whose separatist leaders fought a bloody war of independence against Russian troops in 1994-96, has been rocked over the past year by a wave of kidnappings of foreigners and Russians by armed gangs seeking ransom money. Geremek said ransom could have been a possible motive for the abduction, but there had so far been no demands.


"In other such cases ransom demands came after several months," he said.


Chechen escorts who accompanied the Poles had refused to give information on the incident, Geremek said. The inspection of the vehicle in which they had been traveling showed they were unlikely to have been harmed, he added.


The Poles were reported missing late last week by a Chechen with whom they were staying in the village of Samashki, about 30 kilometers west of the region's capital, Grozny.


Their host had set out to look for them and had found their deserted minibus with the tires shot out on the road to Grozny.


Russian officials said last month that more than 800 people had been taken hostage in Chechnya so far this year. The whereabouts of many of them, including British aid workers and Russian missionaries, remains unclear.