Friday 9 March 2000

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service


SUMMARY: After Victor Luppov was kidnapped in the capital of Grozny, �all
the church property was plundered while the Christian literature was burnt and
a ransom was demanded for his release� according to Taras Savelyuk, a pastor
of an associated Full Gospel Church in Moscow. The Pentecostal church met in
private homes and was registered; Savelyuk said he had even reached an
agreement with Maskhadov�s circle for Luppov�s guaranteed security.
Meanwhile, successive pastors at Grozny�s Baptist church have been
kidnapped and murdered and several Russian Orthodox priests and church
workers remain unaccounted for after being kidnapped.

A Pentecostal pastor kidnapped in the Chechen capital Grozny four years ago
has still not been located and his colleagues have appealed for help in trying to
trace him. VASILI LUPPOV, an unmarried man born in 1976 and originally
from Moscow, was working as pastor of the First Chechen Full Gospel Church
at the time he was kidnapped in February 1996. `He was kidnapped from the
Missionary centre by unknown persons in the town of Grozny,' TARAS
SAVELYUK, pastor of the First Moscow Christian Missionary Full Gospel
Church, told Keston News Service on 8 March. `After that all the church
property was plundered while the Christian literature was burnt, and a ransom
was demanded for Luppov's release.' Savelyuk reports that the Chechen
Internal Affairs Ministry launched a criminal investigation in the wake of the
kidnapping, although officials of the Russian Interior Ministry in Moscow say
they have not heard of his case.

`At present the life of Brother Vasili is in special danger as a result of the
ending of active fighting in Chechnya. I think that it is possible he is being
hidden in the mountains [of southern Chechnya] or has been transferred out of
Chechnya.' Savelyuk maintains that there have been reports of hostages being
taken to Turkey and other countries via Georgia and Azerbaijan for subsequent
ransom. `In response to our numerous appeals to various [government]
agencies we receive reports that operational measures are underway, but the
result is unsuccessful,' Savelyuk adds.

`We have heard about him regularly, but always indefinitely. In 1996 there was
a telephone call from a soldier who had fled from captivity by the Chechens.
He reported that he was in the mountains with Vasili. They looked after sheep
and worked. He did not give his name or other details and did not want to

However, an official of the press office of the Interior Ministry's Chief
Directorate for the Struggle Against Organised Crime was unaware of Luppov's
case. `Vasili Luppov does not appear on our lists [of kidnap victims],' he told
Keston in Moscow on 9 March. The official admitted that his office did not
have access to information about criminal cases instituted by the Chechen
government. `We urge people who know this person to send us information
here in our office at the Chief Directorate - his name, when and where he was
kidnapped and indicate everything that could help in finding him. If we had
received such information four years ago we would have begun to look for him
back then.'

The Full Gospel Church in Grozny - which met in private homes - had been
registered on 17 August 1995 by the Chechen Ministry of Justice. Savelyuk
stresses that his church members had come to Grozny to help the people,
including working in an old people's home. He claims that he had met ASLAN
MASKHADOV, then chief of staff to Chechen President DJOKHAR
DUDAYEV, and had reached an agreement with Maskhadov's circle for
Luppov's security while working in Grozny to be guaranteed. `Unfortunately
this was just words,' Savelyuk notes sadly.

Savelyuk adds that the other members of the Grozny Full Gospel church are
now scattered in various parts of the country. But he reports that he now wants
to restart the church's work in Chechnya.

A similar fate befell Grozny's Baptist church, a congregation belonging to the
Union of Evangelical Christians/Baptists. Successive pastors were kidnapped
and then murdered and the church building - located in the Grozny suburb of
Oktyabrsky - was finally seized by Chechen fighters last October, as fighting
intensified between Chechen separatists and Russian forces. Almost all the
surviving church members were resettled last year in southern Russia with
financial support from Western church aid groups.

Several Russian Orthodox priests and church workers remain unaccounted for
after being kidnapped in the past few years in or near Chechnya. (END)

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