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Russian Police Free 'Slave-Laborer' Soldier Accused Of Desertion

SARATOV, Russia -- A Russian soldier who claims he spent more than a decade in forced labor has been released from detention after authorities accused him of desertion, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

Andrei Popov went missing 11 years ago while serving his mandatory two-year military service in the Tatishchev military garrison in Russia’s southwestern region of Saratov.

Popov reappeared in his native town of Yershov on August 17 and told local police he had managed to flee "slavery in the Republic of Daghestan" in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus region.

He was detained on suspicion of desertion but released on August 25.

Popov's relative Svetlana Popova told RFE/RL that Popov was abducted by persons unknown in 2000 and taken to Daghestan, where he was forced to work illegally at a local brick factory. Popova said he tried unsuccessfully to escape from his de-facto slavery twice before.

"He is 30 but looks 40 or 50. We will do our best to prove that he did not desert the army, but was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Daghestan," Popova said.

Lidiya Sviridova, chairwoman of the Saratov branch of the Union of Soldiers' Mothers, told RFE/RL that Popov should not have been detained until it was proven that he had really deserted his unit. She said the investigation should be conducted not by local police, but by a special commission.

Popov has been sent to a local military unit to continue his military service while his case is investigated.

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