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Chechnya/Russia: Journalists Priority For Yeltsin At Talks

Moscow, 15 August 1997 (RFE/RL) - The Kremlin press service says Russian President Boris Yeltsin will press Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov over the fate of Russian journalists and other hostages held in the breakaway region in the leaders' upcoming talks.

Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky says the Yeltsin-Maskhadov meeting will also probably focus on rebuilding Chechnya's war-ravaged economy, and Russian aid for the republic. No date has been set for the meeting. The secretary of the Russian Security Council, Ivan Rybkin is due to meet Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov tomorrow to prepare for the Yeltsin-Maskhadov negotiations.

Talks on normalizing relations have stalled over the thorny issue of Chechnya's status, an issue left unresolved by a peace treaty signed last August. Relations have been further complicated by a rash of recent kidnappings in Chechnya and nearby areas.

Mahomed Mahmadov, head of a special Chechen team investigating the abductions, told RIA news agency that they had found the whereabouts of a group which kidnapped several Russian journalists. Mahmadov said the kidnappers would be stormed by an assault squad unless they released the journalists in the next two days.