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Russian Rights Activists Decry Disappearances of Dagestan Youth

Russian human rights activists say about 20 young people have disappeared since April in Dagestan, a troubled region of the Caucasus in southern Russia. VOA correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports from Moscow that mothers who have lost sons are facing an uphill battle trying to learn their fate.

Speaking at a joint news conference in Moscow Friday, the mothers of two apparent kidnap victims say they do not know who took their sons or why. However, they claim young people are being ransomed and the price depends on whether they are dead or alive.

Gulnara Rustanova has been searching in vain for her kidnapped son. Rustamova says the dead body of a kidnap victim costs $20,000.

She says Russian authorities refer to the victims as "rebel fighters." If you're lucky, she says, ransom for a live individual costs $150,000. The photo of a dead body runs 10,000 rubles, or about $400.

Another mother, Svetlana Isayeva, also said authorities have kidnapped young men under the pretext of being radicals, either rebels or Wahhabi Muslims.

She says her son, Isa, was neither, but rather an invalid and an ordinary Muslim, though she herself is an atheist. The dilemma Svetlana Isayeva and other mothers face is that the authorities that they are forced to turn to may be behind the kidnappings.

Veteran Russian human rights activist Lyudmilla Alexeyeva, a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, acknowledges the dilemma.

Alexeyeva says people know how difficult it is to get any information from authorities, let alone punishing those responsible if you're dealing with law enforcement officials. As Alexeyeva puts it, these things take years.

The recent disappearances come amid claims of increased Islamic activity in Dagestan. Last year, local police accused Islamic insurgents of killing a prosecutor and ambushing the region's interior minister.

On Friday, Fareed Babayev, the head of the Dagestan branch of Russia's independent Yabloko Party, said the interior minister could be behind the recent violence as a way of making himself useful, by creating a problem, then offering to solve it.

Russian officials were not immediately available to comment on the allegations.

What is certain is that young people are disappearing and dying in Dagestan and their mothers want to know why.