Riddle of Chechnya kidnap Britons

Click to follow
The Foreign Office was yesterday "urgently" seeking information about two British aid workers who have been kidnapped by gunmen in Chechnya, becoming the latest victims in a rash of abductions which have made the republic a no-go area for almost all outsiders.

The Government now faces the task of pressing for their release in a territory that no British diplomat can visit, or has any influence in, and where kidnappers routinely demand seven-figure sums for captives' return. Official Whitehall policy is to refuse to pay ransoms.

It was unclear yesterday why the Britons, John James and Camille Karr, who are reportedly married, decided to go to Chechnya, despite the abduction of dozens of people since the end of the 21-month war last summer. Reports in Moscow said they were working for the Centre for Peacemaking and Community Development, a Russian-run humanitarian organisation which provides care for children.

Interfax news agency said the Chechen authorities had detained the couple's two bodyguards and the deputy director of an aid organisation. The Interior Ministry had said it had been unaware of the couple's presence in Chechnya.

Such is the risk of kidnapping that only a handful of aid agency representatives are active in the Caucasus republic. Although large numbers of foreign journalists visited it during the most dangerous moments in the 21-month war, very few go there now because of the likelihood of being taken hostage.

Of those who have ventured into the republic, 13 have been kidnapped this year. It has taken months of difficult negotiation, and reportedly vast payments, to secure releases. Even so, five Russian journalists remain in custody.