Moscow, 14 February 2000 (RFE/RL) - Russia's interior minister has defended Kremlin claims that a Radio Liberty correspondent was traded to Chechen separatists in exchange for Russian prisoners of war. Vladimir Rushailo said yesterday that "a correct and justified" decision had been made to exchange RFE/RL's Andrei Babitsky, who he said is alive in a Chechen-controlled area.
Chechen rebel leaders have said their fighters are not holding Babitsky.
The alleged trade has received international criticism as a violation of Geneva conventions that call for journalists to be treated as civilians.
Meanwhile, the Russian military is pressing on with its bombardment of rebel strongholds in the southern mountains of Chechnya. The military said federal forces had inflicted heavy damage on rebel positions and were in control of the Vedeno gorge, which serves as a main passage route for the guerrillas in the mountains.