RELATIVES of an American relief worker who disappeared in Chechnya last April accused Russian officials yesterday of setting him up to be killed by Muslim Chechen rebels.
Fred Cuny's son, Craig, and his brother, Chris, said they believed Mr. Cuny had been executed on April 14 by Chechen security forces, after Russian intelligence agents spread rumors that he was anti-Islamic.
Cuny's relatives, in an angry statement, also accused Chechen forces of "a coverup ... which included relocating or destroying the remains" of the aid worker and his three Russian colleagues.
Cuny, disappeared with his interpreter and two Russian doctors in early April. They were traveling in the northern Caucasus region of Chechnya on behalf of the Soros Foundation to assess the needs of refugees who had fled the fierce Russian bombing of Grozny, the Chechen capital. Russia sent troops to Chechnya last December to finally quash a three-year-long bid by Chechens there to gain independence from Russia.
There has been no reliable word of the group's fate since then. But yesterday, at a press conference here, Mr. Cuny's kin said they had found "no substantial evidence that any members of the group are still alive. Sadly, all evidence and confirmable reports now point to the group's demise."
They said they had remained silent about their suspicions until now out of concern that the search might be affected. But their reticence had proved futile, they said.
Mr. Cuny's brother, son, and cousin Eric said that "multiple sources" in Chechnya told them that rumors had been spread in the rebel Chechen stronghold of Bamut that Cuny was anti-Islamic, and that at least one of his colleagues was a Russian spy.
A spokeswoman for the Russian Federal Security Service - formerly the KGB - said her agency had heard nothing of the Cuny family's charges and would not comment on them.
Cuny had written a fierce denunciation of the Russian campaign in the the New York Review of Books after his first visit to Chechnya in January. His article displayed considerable sympathy for the Chechen cause.
As far as they could establish, the family said in a statement, Cuny and his colleagues were detained by Chechen gunmen on April 4 and executed 10 days later while in the charge of Chechen intelligence chief Abu Masaev.
Only two days ago, a senior official in the Federal Security Service told the Interfax news agency that Cuny was believed to be alive in Chechnya, working as an American spy.
That allegation "is nothing more than a deliberate lie and a further attempt at covering up the Russian government's role in Fred's death," the family statement said.
"Russia was responsible for the death of one of the world's great humanitarians," the statement charged, adding that Cuny's relatives and friends would continue to lobby the US Congress and business executives to reconsider Russian aid and investment.
Cuny, who headed his own consulting firm in Dallas, was an expert in disaster relief and had worked in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Somalia, Central America, and Biafra, among other places.
At the time of his disappearance he was assessing how the Soros Foundation might help civilian victims of the brutal Russian campaign against Chechen separatists, which has left much of the center of Grozny flattened.