No leads to whereabouts of Slovak humanitarian worker kidnapped in southern Russia

Miriam Jevikova, photo:

It has been over 3 months since Slovak humanitarian worker Miriam Jevikova went to southern Russia. She has been missing ever since. There are fears she has been kidnapped. The last SMS message from her cell phone was "I have been dragged around fields for two hours". Both the Slovak and Czech governments are trying to locate her.

Miriam Jevikova works for Czech humanitarian agency OPU. At the end of May she attended a special seminar in the Russian town of Piatigorsk. When its official program ended she decided to visit her friends in Ingushetia. But she never came to the place where they were supposed to meet. On July 1, an unknown man phoned the OPU agency in Prague, demanding 1 million dollars in ransom. The same person called later again but the agency does not have that much money.

"This is a very sensitive issue so we are not going to issue any comment on the case."

...says Juraj Tomaga from the Slovak Foreign Ministry. According to a police source in Prague the problem is that Jevikova was not on official mission which makes the investigation complicated and slower, even for intelligence agencies that know the region. Vladimir Simko is from the Slovak Intelligence Service:

"All we could do is contact our partner agencies in that region which we know do have the access to information we want but so far we haven't got any progress report on the situation."

The Russian daily newspaper Novaja Gazeta wrote over a month ago that local authorities have not been taking any steps. However spokeswoman for the Czech Foreign Ministry says the diplomatic contacts have been working hard:

"The Czech foreign ministry is of course involved in this case. The cooperation is set on the level of Deputy Ministers of the Interior, Foreign Ministry and with the Office For Foreign Relations And Information."

Jevikova was fluent in Russian and knew the region very well. Simon Panek from the most famous Czech humanitarian organization People in Need explains how it works in the North Caucasus region.

"For example our organization is registered with the Russian Justice Ministry and we officially cooperate with world institutions like UN."

There are several hundred foreign humanitarian workers in the region, mainly in Chechnya. Many of them are women, so Miriam Jevikova was definitely not an exception, when it comes to dealing with the locals.

"For example in our case we have some 30 to 50 percent women in our teams. It is quite typical for women to travel by themselves to Moscow and then to the south to Caucasus but always based on certain rules."

Jevikova must have known these rules. Among the theories for investigation is said to be violent robbery. But as Simon Panek says the humanitarian workers don't usually have valuables with them.

"Most financial operations are done via bank transfers. The workers have cell phones and some computers in their offices but I would say they carry any valuables."

Any mention of ransom is very sensitive thing. According to the Foreign Ministry it could worsen the whole situation because the kidnappers could either increase their demands if the authorities showed willingness to pay; or on the other hand they could kill the hostage if the found out they won't get the ransom.

"At the same time we are trying to contact other humanitarian agencies that could negotiate with the potential kidnappers."

One of the ways to negotiate with locals is to bribe them to get some information. According to Russian political commentators the only effort on the government level that might bring some results is direct communication with Russian president Vladimir Putin who technically has the intelligence services and other authorities under his command.