Ransom `paid to Chechens'

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The Independent Online
A CHECHEN official in charge of tracking down three Britons and a New Zealander seized in the republic last weekend believes the decision to abduct the telephone engineers came after a "large amount of money was paid" for the release of Camilla Carr and Jon James. He claims the engineers were abducted by the same gang that captured the British aid workers.

The remarks by Chechnya's first deputy prosecutor-general, Magomed Magomadov, which were reported last night by Russia's Interfax agency, contradict repeated statements by the Foreign Office that no ransom money was paid. Interfax said Mr Magomadov is in charge of co-ordinating an anti-kidnapping drive in the Russian republic, where scores of people remain in captivity.

His comments came as relatives of the kidnapped engineers were formally told that the Government would not pay a ransom for their safe return. Meeting Foreign Office officials in London, the families were told it was against government policy.

Mr Magomadov also said the Chechen authorities have several suspects. Three young men - allegedly with bullet wounds - have been placed under surveillance, he said.

Drawing a comparison with the Carr-James abduction, he told Interfax that in both cases the victims lived in a private house and had private guards and were kidnapped after a "semblance" of resistance "in which nobody was killed". Another member of the anti- kidnapping unit said the hostages had already been passed on by the kidnappers to a second group, which specialises in extortion.

Arriving with her father, Eamonn, for the meeting in London, Deborah Hickey, sister of the hostage Darren Hickey, said she bore no resentment towards her brother's employers, Granger Telecom. She said her brother knew the risks and had visited Chechnya three times for the company.

"It has only been two days but already it feels like two weeks. He is coming home, but when we don't know," she said.

Mr Hickey, 27, from Thames Ditton, Surrey, Stan Shaw, 58, from New Zealand, and Rudi Petschi, 42, from Cullompton, Devon, had been working for Granger as part of a five-year contract to install a mobile network worth pounds 190m. Peter Kennedy, 46, an engineer from Hereford, contracted by British Telecom, was working to install an international satellite link.