Oct. 20, 2004. 07:33 PM
 
Miro Cernetig 
Graham Fraser 
Richard Gwyn 
Stephen Handelman 
Chantal Hebert 
James Travers 
Ian Urquhart 
Thomas Walkom 
Canadian's death in Chechnya still not confirmed

FROM CANADIAN PRESS

VANCOUVER — Canadian diplomats met with Russian authorities in Moscow today but came away with no new information about the reported death of Vancouver's Rudwan Khalil Abubaker in Chechnya almost two weeks ago.

"We continue to be in contact with Russian officials who are keenly aware of Canada's interest," Reynald Doiron, a spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Department, said from Ottawa.

"Even under ordinary circumstances the resolution of such cases can be slow."

Abubaker, also known as Rudwan Khalil, was reported killed by Russian forces along with three other men.

But so far the Russians have not even confirmed the man carrying the Canadian passport and B.C. driver's licence issued to Rudwan Khalil was in fact him.

"Our focus is on a resolution of the case," Doiron said. ``Comments on specific steps may be counterproductive to a successful outcome."

Khalil, 26, and friend Kamal Elbahja of suburban Maple Ridge, B.C., were supposedly on a trip to Azarbaijan, next door to Chechnya, for a friend's wedding when both disappeared.

The bridegroom, Azer Tagiev, a former Vancouver resident who returned home to the Azari capital of Baku last spring, has also not been seen.

Lawyer Phil Rankin, representing the Abubaker family, said a Foreign Affairs official told him Wednesday it would be at least another week before Russian officials could provide any information.

Officials from the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry met Wednesday with Canadian embassy staff and a diplomat dispatched from Ottawa.

They were supposed to provide information from Russia's ministries of Defence and Interior, which play major roles in suppressing the decade-old, Muslim-led separatist insurgency in Chechnya, in southern Russia.

The Russians claimed Khalil was an explosives expert working as a mercenary for Chechen rebels and entered the country in August or September.

His family says the Sudanese-born Khalil, who came to Canada as teenage refugee, was a clothing-store salesman and part-time model and movie extra who knew nothing about explosives.

He initially went to Dubai for a holiday and to visit his father in neighbouring Saudi Arabia. A cousin in Dubai told the family around Aug. 23 that Khalil had obtained a visa for Russia so he could catch a connecting flight to Azarbaijan.

Moroccan-born Elbahja's family has officially reported their son missing.

Foreign Affairs is also pursuing information about Tagiev because although he returned to Azarbaijan, he was a landed immigrant to Canada and his family still lives here.

Canadian officials said diplomats in Moscow will talk to their contacts in the Ministry of Interior, which controls Russia's police forces, and Defence.

They'll strive first to confirm Khalil is dead, where his remains are located and whether they can be released for repatriation to Canada.

Some time after that, they hope to confirm the circumstances of Khalil's death, an official said.

Canadian diplomats are treading carefully, Rankin said he was told by a Foreign Affairs official.

"He says everything must be looked at in the context of Beslan," said Rankin. "In other words, that's how they see this guy and Canada's moving judiciously."

Khalil's alleged involvement in Chechen guerrilla activity comes a month after Chechen militants attacked a school in Beslan, a Russian village near the Chechan border, killing hundreds of children. The Russians said foreign fighters were among the attack force.

Prime Minister Paul Martin visited Moscow last week and issued a joint statement with Russian President Vladimir Putin to continue the fight against terrorism.

Investigators for the Canadian Security Intelligence Services have visited the Abubaker and Elbahja families, as well as Tagiev's former employer, Visa Connection.


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