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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechnya Kidnappers Surrounded By Police

Chechen police surrounded a house Friday where they said a gang of kidnappers are holding Russian journalists, in the most concerted effort yet to break the spiral of hostage-taking in the republic.

Coming just days before a summit between the Chechen and Russian presidents, it was a clear attempt by the Chechen authorities to find a breakthrough to improve relations.

The Chechen deputy prosecutor in charge of the operation threatened to storm the building if the kidnappers do not surrender by 10 a.m. Sunday, Interfax reported. It was not reported where the surrounded house was located.

The meeting between President Boris Yeltsin and Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov is expected to take place Monday in Moscow, although the date remains tentative.

Maskhadov, whose position has been undermined by his failure to combat crime and stem the waves of kidnappings, is looking for progress on political relations with Russia. He has said he wants to sign "a state-to-state accord as one more step toward the recognition of the independence of Chechnya." He is specifically looking for a deal to establish diplomatic relations and open embassies in each other's capitals. two reporters from the ORT program "Vzglyad," who were seized in June.

It is not known which group is being held in the house now under siege, but Chechen police have long claimed to know the whereabouts of Masyuk, an award-winning journalist who is well known in Chechnya.

Rybkin is to hold talks with the top Chechen negotiator, Movladi Udugov, on Saturday to make the final preparations for the presidents' meeting. Only then will a date be set for sure. An anonymous Security Council source was quoted by Interfax as saying the meeting will happen Monday. The Yeltsin-Maskhadov talks have already been postponed once amid an apparent hardening of attitudes on both sides. Yeltsin invited Maskhadov to meet Friday, but the Chechen side declined after it said a Russian military plane made a mock bombing raid over the Chechen capital, Grozny, on Wednesday.

Udugov at the time said such aggression could force the Maskahdov-Yeltsin meeting to be canceled.

Russian air force commander Pyotr Deinekin denied Friday that any Russian military planes had flown over Chechnya.

"Any commission may check," he said at a press conference in Moscow. "It will find that the air force has carried out no flights. Furthermore, our air force does not fly over cities unless there is an emergency."

He also described statements of the Russian presidential envoy in Chechnya, who also said that a jet had flown over Grozny's airport, as "incompetent."

Deinekin, who lost much credibility during the war in Chechnya when he repeatedly denied Russian planes were carrying out bombing raids contrary to all evidence, claimed the Chechen side was launching a propaganda war ahead of the summit.

"We lost an information war to the Chechens once and are doing so again," he said. He added that he was prepared to let journalists visit air defense installations monitoring Chechnya and see the records of their radars.

Maskhadov said the dummy raids showed Russian extremists were trying to wreck the peace process. It "clearly shows where the extremists who are hampering the dialogue are seated," he said.

"They want to put pressure on us by imitating air raids, scaring us with bombs, but they forget that hundreds of thousands of bombs and explosives have been dropped on Chechen heads, and they only reinforced their belief in the need to live in an independent country," he told journalists Thursday.

"Our position is well known. We have never made any secret of it. It is based on the belief that the Chechen people deserve the right to be free," he said.

"Moscow bureaucrats are trying to portray Chechnya as Russia's constituent territory, although not a single Chechen accepts the possibility of living in the Russian Federation," he said.

Maskhadov said, however, he was convinced that Yeltsin was "aware of the need to take the situation in his own hands and create conditions for peace and stability in the Caucasus."

Certainly, Yeltsin's comments in the last week have been conciliatory.

He has avoided any comments on the political status of Chechnya and repeated his intention to meet with Maskhadov despite the upsets. Yeltsin also said he wants to investigate why past agreements are not working and has vowed to pay war reparations to Chechnya as promised.