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Russia: Britain Appeals For Aid Workers Kidnapped In Chechnya

By Ben Partridgen

London, 3 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A British Foreign Office minister is to meet today with the families of two British aid workers who were kidnapped a year ago in Chechnya.

Camilla Carr and Jon James were abducted early in July last year by masked armed men while they were working in Grozny with a UK-based humanitarian organization, the Center for Peacemaking and Community Development. Their abductors recently released a videocassette of the couple, showing they were still alive. It's the second film of the pair to emerge from Chechnya since the kidnap.

A junior British Foreign Office Minister Liz Symons, who's due to meet with the families of the pair later today, said in a prepared statement that Britain is continuing to "work around the clock" -- in London, Moscow and elsewhere -- to try to secure their release. She said: "Every lead and angle is investigated with great care as part of our intensive efforts to see them reunited with their families."

Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Robin Cook have been pressing their opposite numbers in Moscow for help. Blair has raised their case with President Boris Yeltsin three times.

Carr, 40, and James, 37, are special-needs teachers who volunteered to go to Chechnya to help children psychologically traumatized by the republic's 21-month war with Moscow.

Chris Hunter, a British charity worker who is part of the campaign to secure their release, says it is not clear what the kidnappers want. He says there has been no ransom demand.

British officials raised their case with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov when he visited London in March. Posters of the missing couple have been stuck up around Grozny.

The first anniversary of their abduction is to be marked by their families with a plan to print up to half a million postcards bearing their photograph. These are to be sent to people in Russia who are thought may be able to help their cause.

The families began their campaign in December after having remained silent for five months in accordance with Foreign Office advice that working-behind-the-scenes offered their best hope.

Scores of people -- including journalists, expatriate workers, Chechens and Russians -- have been abducted in a rash of kidnappings over the past few years. Hopes the British couple will be freed rose last month when two kidnapped Swedish missionaries were released in Dagestan, across the border from Chechnya.