Interenergoservis employees to be evacuated from Iraq?

Yevgeny Loginov, press secretary and director of international projects at the Russian-based Interenergoservis company, said on Tuesday that the company employees may be evacuated from Iraq if the authorities fail to ensure their security.

"We are considering evacuating the company employees in the event the authorities do not take any measures to ensure the security of their work in the country," Mr. Loginov said in remarks aired by the NTV channel.

Mr. Loginov told RIA Novosti earlier that Interenergoservis had known the names of the Russians who had been taken hostage.

"We cannot, thus far, disclose the names of those who were kidnapped, but we know them. We are trying to find out which of the employees was killed. As soon as it is clear, we will announce all the names," said Mr. Loginov.

Mr. Loginov said the kidnapped workers were young men from 34 to 44 years of age.

"One of the kidnapped Russians has for rather a long time been working in Iraq, while the other two came to the country in early May," said Mr. Loginov.

Mr. Loginov provided details of the incident, which occurred in Iraq on Monday afternoon. The Russian employees came under fire when they were returning from work in a car.

"One employee was killed. A bodyguard who also interpreted for the Russian specialists was injured. He reported on the incident to the company. We learned the news yesterday evening," said the press secretary.

"We are trying to determine the whereabouts of the Russian hostages," said Mr. Loginov.

Russia's industry and energy ministry has told RIA Novosti that it is also gathering information related to the incident. "A group of leading ministry experts are studying the situation, keeping in contact with other ministries," said Stanislav Naumov, a ministry spokesman.

Alexander Yakovenko, official spokesman of the Russian foreign ministry, said, for his part, that Russians had been strongly recommended to leave Iraq and refrain from visiting the country until normality was brought to the country. The Russian foreign ministry, in cooperation with the emergencies ministry, have evacuated all those who had given their consents. Involved organizations are taking additional steps to ensure the security of those who stayed in Iraq, according to the diplomat.

Unknown gunmen fired at the car with the Russian specialists who were returning from work on Monday afternoon, the Russian embassy in Baghdad told RIA Novosti. The Russian specialists were employed in the restoration of the Al-Mussaib power station (50 km south of Baghdad).

None of the radical organizations has, thus far, claimed responsibility for the attack or advanced any demands whatsoever.

Interenergoservis employees already suffered an attack on April 12, when gunmen broke into their house and seized 9 men, one of whom was released almost immediately. The other hostages were also released soon.

On that day, Russia's Security Council recommended Russian nationals to leave Iraq due to "a sharp aggravation of the situation there." On April 15-16, Russian emergencies ministry planes evacuated some 500 Russians and the residents of other Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, who worked in Iraq under Russian contracts. However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a statement that it was up to companies and their employees to decide whether to leave the country or not.

Some 300 Russian nationals, above all Interenergoservis employees, have refused to evacuate and are continuing to work in Iraq.

The Russian employees who had chosen to continue working in Iraq filed applications with the Russian embassy, saying they had voluntarily chosen to stay in Iraq and had been warned of possible danger.

Interenergoservis has been working in Iraq under 4 contracts. On January 20, March 7 and March 10, 2004, it signed the respective contracts for the repair and restoration of the Dora, Baghdad South and Al-Mussaib thermal power stations. On March 7, the company signed a contract with Iraq's interim administration for the delivery of electronic units for the Nassiriya thermal power plant.

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