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Russia: Pro-Moscow Chechens Deny Role In Babitsky Detention

Moscow, 10 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The head of a pro-Moscow Chechen militia today denied his group had played any role in the detention of missing RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitsky. Russia's Interfax news agency quotes Bislan Garnamirov as saying he learned of Babitsky's detention "from journalists." He called reports that his people had been involved "a total invention." Russian forces detained Babitsky last month for allegedly lacking proper accreditation. One week ago Russian officials said Babitsky was handed over to Chechen rebels in exchange for captive Russian soldiers.

Nothing is currently known about Babitsky's whereabouts. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has denied that Chechen separatist forces were holding Babitsky. Russian television yesterday showed footage of Babitsky purportedly made after the prisoner swap.

Babitsky's case has sparked an international outcry. The U.S. State Department yesterday said the Russian government is responsible for his safety and well-being and called on Moscow to conduct an unbiased investigation into the case.