Click here to read more about press freedom conditions in RUSSIA.

New York, June 12, 2000 — Brice Fleutiaux, the French photographer kidnapped by Chechen rebels last October, was freed today by Russian special forces, according to international news reports. An Interior Ministry spokesman in Moscow reported Fleutiaux’s release Monday, but provided no further details.

Fleutiaux was flown to Moscow, where he met with Russian president Vladimir Putin. The photographer appeared tired and thin, but not in visibly poor health, according to news reports. He is expected to fly home to France in the next few days.

Chechen rebels kidnapped Fleutiaux on October 1, 1999, later demanding a US$1.5 million ransom. During the course of his captivity, Fleutiaux’s family received two video tapes of their son, and one phone call in which he pleaded for them to secure his release.

Russian news agencies reported that no ransom had been paid, and quoted the Interior Ministry spokesman as saying the photographer had been “irresponsible” in straying into Chechnya from Georgia without a visa.

Under the Putin administration, Russian and international journalists covering the brutal separatist war over Chechnya have faced huge obstacles, ranging from a virtual information blackout imposed by the Kremlin to the danger of arrest by the Russian military and kidnapping by criminal Chechen gangs.