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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Envoy to Chechnya Kidnapped




GROZNY -- Russian and Chechen security forces have teamed up to try to find President Boris Yeltsin's personal envoy to Chechnya, who was kidnapped after meeting with officials in the breakaway republic.


Valentin Vlasov was abducted by five gunmen who fired shots and forced his unescorted limousine to stop on a main road near Chechnya's border with neighboring Ingushetia around noon Friday.


Officials have said Vlasov's bodyguard and driver were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the kidnapping.


The bodyguard told investigators that some of the attackers sounded Russian, while others spoke in Chechen, Itar-Tass reported. Police were examining spent cartridges found at the scene.


Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov was quoted by RIA news agency as saying that the kidnapping was aimed at upsetting Moscow's uneasy relationship with Chechnya.


"There are enough clear-headed politicians in Moscow to see in the actions of those who organized this provocation the intention to cause tension between Russia and Chechnya," he said.


Chief Russian peace negotiator Ivan Rybkin said he was satisfied with cooperation between Russian and Chechen security forces.


A senior Chechen official said a joint search headquarters was being set up in neighboring Ingushetia. Chechens are wary about Russian security forces acting on their territory.


Vlasov has been an important figure behind the scenes in Moscow's attempts to build a lasting settlement with the secessionist Chechen leadership since Russia withdrew its troops in 1996 after nearly two years of fighting.


Maskhadov has said his administration would do its best to find and free Vlasov and appealed to Chechens to help. "We will spare no effort in finding Vlasov. We will also apologize to the Russian government and personally to Vlasov. The kidnapping happened on our territory, and we bear the responsibility," Maskhadov said Saturday.


Rybkin said that Vlasov should not have been traveling without an escort vehicle. He and Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov have ruled out paying a ransom.


Maskhadov's administration has been unable to rein in gangs of kidnappers, who have held hundreds of people for ransom.