Russians snatch civilians

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The Independent Online
Russian forces in Chechnya and Ingushetia appear to be seizing civilians and refugees from Grozny as hostages to exchange for Russian prisoners of war.

Senior local officials believe some 200 people are being held at a camp at Mozdok, the main Russian headquarters, 64 miles north-west of Grozny.

A member of the Russian troops mothers' movement, whose sons may be freed in return for the hostages, said they had seen a lorry-load of refugees on Thursday at the Samashki checkpoint, west of Grozny, where they were searched for half an hour by Interior Ministry troops. The mothers intervened when a helicopter was called to take the refugees to Mozdok. After a confrontation, the people were released.

Interior Ministry troops have admitted detaining people, but Russian federal authorities have refused to meet senior local officials. The Chechens have many Russian prisoners, but few Chechen fighters have let themselves to be taken - lending credibilityto fears that hostages are needed as "insurance". Khizar Vitayev, chief of administration at Sernovodsk, 25 miles west of Grozny, said that 45 people had been taken from his village and a neighbouring one; only an elderly meat seller had returned. "We haven't seen any camps with our own eyes but judging from the stories of people who have brought their kids out of there, there is some kind of camp.

"We only know the people from our own village. They're taking a lot of people - refugees from Grozny, people going from here to there. If you're young, with a beard, simply dressed,without a doubt they'll take you. On Tuesday, I met the commander of the Assinovskaya Omon [special police] unit. The only answer we got was `we've been detaining and we'll continue to detain'. He didn't even introduce himself - he wasn't wearing any rank insignia."