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Six Russian Tourists Missing in Xinjiang


Chinese police are searching for six Russian tourists and their two local guides who were reported missing after they embarked on a canoeing trip in the southwestern part of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region . A statement from the Hotan Prefectural Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) said the group set out along the upper reaches of the Yurungkax River that flows through Hotan but soon lost contact with their local Russian-language interpreter Zhang Hong. "The six Russians were introduced to me by a Russian friend of mine and arrived in Hotan in mid-August with the aim of canoeing along the upper reaches of the Yurunkax River," said Zhang. According to Zhang, the six Russians flew to Urumqi, regional capital of Xinjiang, on August 11. Led by Zhang, the six tourists then flew to Hotan and later arrived by bus in Pulu Village, Yutian County, where the Yurungkax River originates. In addition to hiring two villagers as their guides, the six Russians also rented eight donkeys to help carry daily necessities weighing about 400 kg, including food, medicine, a GPS system and tents. Zhang returned to Urumqi for business on August 14. According to the original plan, the expedition team would arrive at the banks of the Yurungkax River on August 20, start canoeing the next day towards Cele and finish at Kashitashi Township in Hotan County, 30 km from Hotan City, in order to meet Zhang. However, the six Russians and their two Chinese guides failed to show up on September 2. Zhang then informed his Russian friend of the situation two days later, who passed on the news to the relatives of the tourists. Zhang reported to the local tourism department in Hotan after relatives of one of the Russians phoned Zhang twice to request an immediate search operation. The six Russians were identified as Vladimir Smetannikov, Sergey Chernik, Andrey Pautov, Dmitry Tishchenko, Ivan Chernik and Alexander Zverev, with the youngest aged 25 and the oldest 47. A joint team made up of members of the local police, tourism authorities and water resources department are searching for the missing. An official in charge of the search operation said the rescuers' task would be made all the more difficult by the fact the group had traveled high in the remote Kunlun mountain range at heights of between 5,000 and 6,000 meters above sea level, but they were optimistic the group was just temporarily out of contact.

(Source:Xinhua News Agency , 2007-09-10)