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Pro-Chechen Ferry Hijackers Head For Istanbul

Ankara, Turkey; Jan. 18 (RFE/RL) - The pro-Chechen gunmen who hijacked a Black Sea passenger ferry with about 200 people on board are proceeding on their way to Istanbul, where Turkish officials hope the crisis will end peacefully.

The Anatolia News Agency quoted Turkish Coast Guard officer Ibrahim Yukusek as saying the boat is reported advancing through high seas. Yukasek said the ferry has slowed but has not wavered from its course for Istanbul's Bosphorus Straits. Turkish television says the ferry is now off the coast from the port of Zonguldak, more than 200 kms west of Istanbul.

Anatolia quoted Turkish Intelligence chief Sonmez Koksal as saying the hijackers could reach Istanbul safely and surrender after holding a news conference, as they have requested. Koksak said the ferry is expected to arrive in Istanbul late today or in the early hours of tomorrow.

Turkish Interior Minister Teoman Unusan told Turkish television after a top-level security meeting today that he believes "the incident will end with the peaceful surrender of the activists."

The ferry was hijacked on Tuesday in the Black Sea port of Trabzon. The gunmen, identified as Turkish nationals of North Caucasian origin, threatened to blow up the vessel in Istanbul unless their "Chechen brothers" fighting Russian troops near the Dagestan-Chechen border were allowed to leave Dagestan safely.