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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Poland Says No Cash Paid to Free Hostages




Polish officials said Tuesday that no ransom money was paid to secure the release of five Polish aid workers freed by Chechen security forces this week after an eight-week kidnapping ordeal.


The release appears to be a rare success for Chechnya's embattled security forces, who are fighting a spate of kidnappings that have often involved foreign aid workers. Around eight foreign hostages in the region have been freed over the last twelve months, but in most cases large ransoms have been paid to win their release.


Jacek Niedzielski, a spokesman at the Polish Embassy in Moscow said Tuesday that no ransom demand was received and no money changed hands. His statement contradicted earlier reports that the kidnappers had demanded a $3 million ransom from the Polish government.


A special envoy to Grozny from the Polish Foreign Ministry is currently arranging for the repatriation of the group via Moscow, Niedzielski said.


The Poles were members of the Association of Polish-Chechen Friendship, which backs Chechnya's bid for independence. They were delivering humanitarian aid in conjunction with a Catholic aid organization when they were taken hostage by terrorists Dec. 17.


They were freed unharmed Monday when Chechen special forces raided an apartment in the capital of the republic, Grozny. Two terrorists were taken prisoner in the operation.


Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Ananicz said at a news conference in Warsaw that "about 12 to 14 soldiers of the special services broke into the building where the Poles were being held" in the Grozny area. "After more than a dozen minutes the action was over," Reuters quoted Ananicz as saying.


"What happened is not a reason to terminate [aid work]," Interfax quoted the head of the group as saying upon being freed Monday. "All members of the group will carry on organizing humanitarian relief along with extending moral support to Chechnya."


The nature of the Poles' activity in Chechnya remained murky Tuesday. The group was working in conjunction with the Polish branch of Caritas, a Catholic Church humanitarian aid organization, to deliver food, clothing and medicine for the village of Samashki. Samashki was one of the hardest hit during Chechnya's 21 month war of secession from Russia.


In Chechnya since December 13, the Poles also came to relay a goodwill message from the Gdansk city government and church leaders to Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov.


Staff at the Caritas office in Moscow said Tuesday they were still unclear about the relationship of the pro-Chechen group with their Polish branch since Caritas officially no longer works in Chechnya.


Caritas officially pulled out of Chechnya in June 1997 because of the rising numbers of kidnappings of foreign aid workers and journalists by armed gangs operating in the region, said the organization's Moscow office director Antonio Santi.


A number of other foreigners abducted while working in Chechnya or neighboring republics still remain in captivity.


Vincent Cochetel, UN refugee agency mission chief for the North Caucasus, was seized from his home in the North Ossetian capital Vladikavkaz on Jan. 29 and has not been heard of since. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata appealed Tuesday to Cochetel's kidnappers to let him go free.


Five Russian servicemen detained by Chechen border guards on the Dagestan-Chechnya border Jan. 26 were freed Tuesday, Interfax reported.