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Chechnya: Russian government must order the release of Radio Liberty

Russian television broadcast a video tape of a message from Babitsky

on 8 February which stated that he was 'ok' but that he wanted to return

home. The date and place of the message remain a mystery.

The tape was delivered and sold for $300 to the Moscow office of Radio

Liberty on 6 February by a man who identified himself as 'Aleksey', a

Chechen from Istanbul. 'Aleksey' reportedly arrived in a grey 'Mercedes'

and was accompanied by another man, 'Mairbek', who was dressed in a fatigue

uniform with Russian special troops (OMON) and Russian Ministry of Internal

Affairs badges. 'Aleksey' reportedly said that Babitsky is being held by

Chechens in Alkhazurovo, and that he may re-emerge shortly in Poland.

However, according to another media report and Radio Liberty, Andrey

Babitsky was last seen on 7 February -- the day after the message was

allegedly taped -- at Gudermes, Chechnya's second city which is under

Russian control. The eyewitnesses, who wished to remain unidentified,

allegedly saw him with members of the militia of pro-Russian Chechen leader

Bislan Gantamirov, but it was unclear whether he was being held against his

will. The same sources claimed that his face was swollen and bruised and he

had some blood on his clothes.

On 8 February Russian Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Ivan

Golubev, had reportedly said Andrey Babitsky was 'alive, in good health and

being moved around constantly.'

On 9 February Sharip Yusupov, who reportedly identified himself as 'a

spokesman for Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov', told Echo Moskvy radio

station that the Chechen commanders are holding Andrey Babitsky and want to

transfer him to another European country. However Chechen authorities

close to President Aslan Maskhadov stated that Sharip Yusupov is not an

official representative and is working for the Russian Federal Security

Services (FSB).

The Chechen Minister of Foreign Affairs, Iliyas Akhmadov, also made a

statement on 9 February saying that since the last Chechen representative,

Mayerbek Vachagayev, was arrested by the Russian police on 21 October in

Moscow and charged with arms possession, the Chechen authorities have no

official representatives in Moscow. The Chechen authorities continue to

maintain that Andrey Babitsky is not in their custody.

Meanwhile, on 9 February the State Duma voted down a proposal by the

Union of Right Forces and Yabloko faction to summon the Minister of

Internal Affairs, Vladimir Rushailo, and the acting Procurator-General,

Vladimir Ustinov, to discuss the case of Andrey Babitsky during the routine

'parliamentary hour'.

'In the middle of this tale of intrigue is a man's life. The Russian

authorities and pro-Russian Chechen militia clearly know where Andrey

Babitsky is and should free him immediately,' Amnesty International urged.

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