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US Journalist Reported Missing Near Chechnya Turns Up Safe - 2004-02-11

An American journalist presumed missing near war-torn Chechnya has turned up safe and sound.

The Cox Newspaper chain's Washington bureau chief, Andy Alexander, has confirmed that the newspaper has heard from its Moscow-based reporter, Rebecca Santana, who was on assignment in the volatile North Caucasus.

Mr. Alexander says she telephoned her bosses Wednesday to say that she is alive and well and returning to Moscow later in the day.

Mr. Alexander says Ms. Santana expressed surprise about the concern over her whereabouts. He said nothing untoward appears to have happened to her and that her call was good news.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow earlier confirmed that it had filed a missing person report on Ms. Santana, who had not been heard from in three days after traveling to North Ossetia, bordering Chechnya, to report on refugees and other issues.

Concern among Cox co-workers grew when Ms. Santana failed to file any stories or to appear at a scheduled meeting with a contact in the region.

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.

Ms. Santana has been living and working in Russia since 1999. She has been with the Atlanta-based Cox newspapers for one year. Before that, she worked at the VOA Moscow Bureau.