Dozens of hostages seized by Chechen rebels in a raid outside their separatist republic this month were released Wednesday in an exchange clouded by new clashes with Russian troops.
The Chechens continued to hold 14 Russian policemen taken after the Jan. 9 raid in neighboring Dagestan that touched off a bloody siege and escalated the 13-month-old war.
Television footage showed the 46 hostages filing onto a bus in the Chechen village of Novogroznensky after talks between rebel leaders in camouflage fatigues and impassioned Dagestani elders in tall sheepskin hats.
Two hours later, when the police convoy escorting the 40 men and six women arrived at its final destination of Khasavyurt, Dagestan, the freed hostages were greeted by relatives with shouts, smiles and hugs.
The release, originally planned for the previous day, came after Russian authorities turned over the bodies of 42 Chechen fighters killed in the previous week’s fighting, the Interfax news agency reported.