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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bodies of Hostages To Be Turned Over

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- The bodies of four Western hostages beheaded in Chechnya have been found and were to be handed over to British diplomats in Azerbaijan early Tuesday, officials said Monday.

The severed heads of Britons Darren Hickey, Rudolf Petschi, Peter Kennedy and New Zealander Stanley Shaw were found Dec. 8 on a Chechen road. Their bodies were found over the weekend in Grozny, the capital, after a long search

Television footage from Grozny on Monday showed the four bodies, with heads restored, in four open metallic coffins. They were to be flown Tuesday to London on a British Airways flight from Baku.

A convoy bearing the bodies left Chechnya on Monday and was to travel across the Russian region of Dagestan, between Chechnya and Azerbaijan.

The British ambassador, aid workers and Azeri officials were to travel to the border to meet the convoy, an Azeri presidential spokesman was quoted as saying by Reuters.

The four men, employees of a British telecommunications firm, were seized in October in Grozny, where they were installing a mobile telephone system.

The handover was originally planned for Monday, but appeared to have been delayed by disagreement over where it should take place.

A spokesman for the British Embassy in Moscow, Mike Haddock, said Britain wanted the handover to happen in the Russian capital, Interfax reported.

But Chechnya's Deputy Prime Minister Kazbek Makhashev said the proposal was "unacceptable" and wanted the bodies to be handed over in Azerbaijan, Interfax reported.

Chechnya has poor relations with Moscow, with which it fought a war for secession in 1994-96, and adamantly asserts its independence.

Chechnya has been plagued by kidnappings and feuds among powerful field commanders since the end of its war with Moscow and the withdrawal of Russian federal troops.

In a blow to President Aslan Maskhadov, the top Islamic court in Chechnya suspended the Chechen parliament and fired several senior officials for "collaboration" with Russians.

The Supreme Shariah Court also found Maskhadov guilty of appointing the officials, who it said assisted Russia's "occupation regime" during the war, and warned him against such actions in the future. In a ruling announced late Thursday, the court also dismissed Maskhadov's wife, Kusama, as head of a charity, citing "inadmissibility of women holding top posts in an Islamic state," Interfax and Itar-Tass reported Friday.

The court ruled to suspend the pro-president Chechen parliament, saying its activities contradicted Islamic norms, and ordered it be replaced with a council of top military commanders. It was not clear what the court meant by suspending parliament.

Turpal Atgeriyev, Chechnya's deputy prime minister, said Friday that the court's decision didn't mean the dissolution of the parliament. Members of parliament will join the new council along with military chiefs and religious leaders, he said.

The court also dismissed Chechen Prosecutor General Mansur Tagirov, along with the local airline chief, the tax boss and Chechnya's envoy to Russia.

The court's verdict came after an appeal from a group of prominent Chechen warlords, who accused Maskhadov of breaking Chechen law by maintaining close relations with Russia and had demanded his ouster.

Maskhadov accepted the court's ruling, saying through Atgeriyev that he would accept any verdict "as the Koran requires from a faithful Muslim. "

On Monday, Maskhadov urged parliament to seek a compromise with the Supreme Shariah Court.

A Russian policeman held hostage in Chechnya was released Saturday in exchange for a Chechen prisoner being held in Russia, Itar-Tass reported.

Sergei Khalansky, 41, was freed under a deal worked out by Alexander Lebed, the retired general who negotiated the end to Chechnya's war with Russia. Lebed is seen as a top contender for Russia's 2000 presidential elections.