American Hostage To Leave Chechnya

Monday, February 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NAZRAN, Russia (AP) — After a month of captivity in Chechnya, an American aid worker left the breakaway republic Monday escorted by Russian authorities who said they had orchestrated his release.

Kenneth Gluck, head of the Doctors Without Borders mission for the troubled region, flew by helicopter to a Russian military base in Mozdok in the neighboring republic of North Ossetia, said the Federal Security Service, or FSB.

Gluck, a New York City native, was then to be sent to nearby Nazran to meet with colleagues and be released on his own, the service said. A U.S. Embassy official in Moscow said embassy officials were talking with Russian authorities about sending Gluck to the United States.

Kris Torgeson of Doctors Without Borders' Moscow office would not elaborate on Gluck's plans. ``We're just extremely glad he's safe,'' she said.

Details of his captivity and the circumstances around his abrupt release remained hazy.

Gluck was seized Jan. 9 by masked gunmen who pulled him from his car near the town of Stariye Atagi, in the southern foothills of Chechnya, while on a mission to deliver aid.

The FSB said he was released unharmed in a special operation late Saturday. The FSB is now leading the Russian campaign against Chechen rebels, which has stretched into its sixteenth month.

President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, on Monday hailed the FSB for securing Gluck's safe release.

Ramzan Ibragimov, Moscow-based spokesman for the Russian-backed Chechen administration, said American authorities ``of course helped in the release'' but had no details. The embassy spokeswoman would not comment.

Gluck said Sunday that he would consider going back to work in the region. He did not say who the kidnappers were or describe his release.

``I feel OK,'' Gluck, 38, said in remarks broadcast on Russian television. ``The kidnappers treated me quite well.''

Chief FSB spokesman Alexander Zdanovich said that agents had been following the kidnappers for days and won his release without paying ransom. Zdanovich did not name the captors, though Russian officials had previously said Gluck was being held by Chechen rebels.

Hundreds of people — foreign aid workers, journalists, Russian soldiers and local residents — have been kidnapped by armed bands for ransom in Chechnya in recent years. According to the Russian Interior Ministry, about 700 people are believed currently to be in captivity.

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, among others, claimed that Russian secret services were behind Gluck's kidnapping in a bid to discredit the Chechen rebels and revive public support for the war. Maskhadov said Gluck had documents outlining abuses by the Russian military.

Gluck was abducted in an area thick with Russian checkpoints, which some observers said cast doubt on the claim that rebels were responsible.

The Russian daily Kommersant quoted an unnamed FSB officer as saying the security service was not responsible for Gluck's release. The officer said Gluck's captors had blindfolded him late Saturday, brought him to a local doctor's home and then fled.

Doctors Without Borders, which won the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize, supplies free medical help to disaster areas and war zones.

Russia's chief human rights monitor for Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov, told Interfax news agency on Monday that the kidnapping should serve as a warning to foreigners in Chechnya, whom some say sidestep the proper permitting channels.