British hostages `on verge of release'

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The Independent Online
A RENEGADE Chechen warlord claimed yesterday that the two British aid workers kidnapped in Chechnya last year would be released soon, as would a Russian presidential envoy.

Salman Raduyev told ITAR-Tass news agency in the Chechen capital, Grozny, that Camilla Carr and Jon Jameshad been on the verge of being freed last week, but that their release was hampered by certain factors. He did not elaborate.

Mr Raduyev, a former Chechen field commander in the war with Russia, did not say what his role was in the release, but explained that he was working to free the two.

Camilla Carr's sister, Alexandra Little, who has been at the forefront of a campaign for the pair's release, reacted with caution to the report.

"It would be wonderful if it were true, but there is nothing to substantiate this," she said. "We have been on a roller-coaster today. For half an hour I really thought something might happen, but the Foreign Office checked it out and told us it was nothing more than a rumour."

Mr James and Ms Carr were seen last week in a two-minute videotape shown by the BBC. It was the first time there had been video footage since their kidnapping 14 months ago while on a charitable mission in Chechnya for a Quaker affiliate.

Mr Raduyev is known to wield some power in Chechnya, although his provocative statements and erratic behaviour have frequently put him at odds with the Muslim republic's leadership.

Last May, he offered to help find - and then kill - a Russian presidential envoy who had been kidnapped in the rebel region. But yesterday, according to ITAR-Tass, he said he claimed that the envoy, Vladimir Vlasov, would be released soon.

He also said he was holding a Russian soldier, identified only by the last name Anokhin, who had been released from Chechen captivity and would be turned over to Russia.

Finally, Raduyev claimed that he intends to offer to hand over 10 Russian soldiers being held as prisoners in Chechnya, but only in exchange for Chechens who were taken prisoner during Russia's 1994-96 war to stop the secession of the southern republic.

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