INTERNATIONAL

Russia deplores agents' arrest in Qatar

MOSCOW, FEB. 26. Russia has demanded the immediate release of two Russian secret service agents detained in Qatar on charges of killing a Chechen separatist leader.

The Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, said on Thursday three Russian "special service officers," one of whom held a diplomatic passport, had been arrested a week ago in Doha, capital of Qatar. One of the arrested was later released. They had "no relation whatsoever to the incident," and the charges against them were "totally unsubstantiated", the Minister said. The men were "attached to the Embassy" and were pursuing "tasks of information and analytical nature related to countering international terrorism".

Mr. Ivanov accused the Qatar authorities of failing to report the arrests to the Russian Embassy and refusing it the opportunity to meet with those arrested for seven days.

The former Chechen President, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, was blown up in his car along with two bodyguards in Doha on Feb. 13. He had lived in Qatar since 2000 raising funds for rebels in Chechnya. He was on a U.N. Security Council list of people linked with Al-Qaeda and on an Interpol wanted list for a rebel invasion of Dagestan in 1999.

Russia also demanded his extradition from Qatar for his role in the theatre hostage seizure by Chechen gunmen in October 2002. He was assassinated one week after a bomb attack in the Moscow subway had killed 41 people and wounded more than 100.

The Qatari Interior Ministry said on Wednesday that two suspects detained for questioning since Feb. 19, whose identity was not given, had been charged with murder.

The Russian Foreign Minister reiterated Moscow's denial of any involvement in Mr. Yandarbiyev's killing and described the accusations against the arrested Russians as a `provocation'. He said he had sent a special envoy to Qatar to negotiate the men's release.