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Former VOA Reporter Goes Missing Near Chechnya - 2004-02-11

An American journalist who used to work for the Voice of America has been reported missing near war-torn Chechnya.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow has confirmed that an American reporter has been missing for three days in the area near Mozdok in North Ossetia, which borders Chechnya.

Moscow police have identified the reporter as 32-year-old Rebecca Santana of Cox newspapers. The police say they have opened an investigation into the whereabouts of the Moscow-based reporter, who previously worked in the VOA Moscow Bureau.

Several foreign journalists and aid workers have disappeared in Chechnya, where Russian federal forces are locked in a bitter guerrilla-style war with Chechen separatist rebels.

Among the missing are a Dutch aid worker Arjan Erkel seized at gunpoint in 2002 and a local reporter Ali Astamiro for the French news agency, AFP, who was kidnapped last July. Neither has been heard from since, despite numerous appeals to Russian President Vladimir Putin and local authorities.

The foreign editor of the Cox newspaper chain, Chuck Holmes, expressed concern for Ms. Santana, who reportedly failed to meet a contact at a pre-arranged spot on Sunday for planned coverage in the region surrounding Chechnya. Cox Newspapers is based in Atlanta, Georgia, and owns 42 newspapers, mostly in the eastern United States.

Ms. Santana, a graduate of Columbia University, first came to Russia in 1999. Before that, she lived in Estonia, where she studied Russian and worked for a local English-language newspaper.