Moscow, 4 February 2000 (RFE/RL) - RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitsky was reportedly handed over to Chechen rebels yesterday in return for two Russian soldiers. There has been no news from Babitsky since the reported handover. Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky said the handover was proposed by the Chechens.
He quoted from a statement allegedly written by Babitsky, agreeing to the trade. Yastrzhembsky's office said a videotape of the exchange would be available soon.
Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev says Russian forces will now focus their military campaign on Chechen rebel bases in the breakaway republic's southern mountains.
He made the comment late last night on ORT television. He said Russia is now on the verge of completing its campaign to restore control over the capital Grozny.
Sergeyev said Russian troops were ready to repel any rebel attacks on targets in Russian-controlled Chechnya. He said they were already being sent to fight in the last rebel-controlled areas.
Chechen commander Khizir Khachukayev vowed his men will regroup in the mountains. He warned the Russians would "face more trouble" there than they had in Grozny.