London, 10 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has called for a full investigation into the murders in Chechnya of four British-based workers found beheaded after an apparent rescue attempt by local security forces went wrong.
Cook called on the Chechen authorities to bring to justice those responsible for what he called the "repugnant" killings.
The severed heads of the four -- three Britons and a New Zealander -- were found (Dec. 8) on a village roadside in the breakaway Russian republic. Their identity papers were beside them.
Darren Hickey, Rudolf Petschi, Peter Kennedy and Stanley Shaw were seized in October by armed men in the Chechen capital, Grozny, where they had been installing a mobile phone system. Since then they had been held hostage while talks were held to free them. The four had been working in the north Caucasus for a year.
A British Foreign Office minister, Tony Lloyd, says the killing of the four apparently followed a physical confrontation.
"We've had reports but obviously they're all second-, third-, or fourth-hand reports, but we understand there may have been some form of fighting, a physical confrontation. In that process, our citizens died or were murdered."
News of the men's deaths came less than a week after they had contacted the UK-based company that employed three of them to say they were safe and well. Their unknown kidnappers were believed to have abducted them in the hope of a ransom.
Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov said Chechen law-enforcement agencies were closing in on the kidnappers and this may have been the reason for the murders. Other reports said the security forces may have let the kidnappers know an attack was coming.
British parliamentarian Paul Keetch, a representative of one of the murdered hostages who had been pressing for their release, says he believes the kidnappers panicked.
"What went wrong was clearly that the gang panicked and deliberately killed these people in the most brutal way. There were pretty good indications last week that the hostages were alive. It appears that the Chechen forces identified virtually the village where they might have been held. But obviously it all went wrong."
The UK-based company (Granger Telecom) employing three of the men is being strongly criticized for ignoring the strict advice of the British Foreign Office to keep away from Chechnya. Lawlessness in the republic has been widespread since its 21-month war of independence with Russia which ended two years ago.
In a statement, Russian President Boris Yeltsin said he was "deeply disturbed" at the murders, and ordered his security forces to step up the fight against kidnapping in Russia's north Caucasus region.
British newspaper reports today described Chechnya as the world's "kidnap capital," citing a statement last week by Chechen officials that 111 people were being held ransom there.
While scores of Russian hostages have been killed, until yesterday foreigners had been protected, apparently because their kidnappers were confident of winning large ransoms.
The killings of the four UK-based workers comes just months after two British aid workers, Camilla Carr and Jon James, were freed from 15 months' captivity. In October, the head of Chechnya's anti-kidnap squad, Shadid Bargishev, was killed outside his office.