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Russia: Putin Says Babitsky Is Alive With Civilians

Moscow, 23 February 2000 (RFE/RL) - British Foreign Minister Robin Cook has received assurances from acting Russian President Vladimir Putin that missing RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitsky is alive. Cook said Putin told him during a meeting today in Moscow that Babitsky is not being held by the Russian military and is at present alive and in the hands of civilians. He did not provide additional details. Cook said Putin's assurance was "welcome news." But Cook said direct contact with Babitsky would be even more welcome.

Babitsky disappeared near the Chechen capital Grozny in mid-January and has not been heard from since. Russian authorities later said they detained him for lacking proper accreditation and then traded him to Chechen fighters in exchange for Russian prisoners of war.

Babitsky's disappearance and reports of the exchange have prompted international protests.