Saturday, October 26, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

15 hostages, including 8 children, freed

A TV image from Russian television network NTV shows a pistol-wielding Chechen rebel (R) standing behind a group of hostages in a Moscow theatre late on Thursday. — Reuters photo

A man identified as Movsar Barayev, reported to be a leader of the armed Chechens who seized the Moscow theatre on Wednesday, is seen somewhere inside the theatre in this early Friday image from television by Russia's NTV, whose correspondents were allowed to accompany a doctor inside the theater. — AP/PTI photo

A soldier climbs atop an APC, which blocks a street early on Friday, near the Moscow theatre that was seized by armed men.
— AP/PTI photo

Russian special forces walk outside the theatre
on Friday. — Reuters photo

Moscow, October 25
Chechen separatists holding 700 theatre-goers hostage in Moscow have threatened to start executing them early tomorrow if their demands are not met, a press officer with the theatre told AFP, quoting a hostage.

The hostage-takers gave the Russian authorities three days to pull out troops from Chechnya.

They had initially given the Russian authorities one week to pull their troops out of the breakaway Caucasus republic. The commandos released 15 captives today, including a Swiss 10-year-old girl, but have failed to set free 75 foreigners despite a reported deal with the Russian authorities.

Negotiations with the commandos are still in progress.

Among the negotiators is a leading anti-war reporter, Anna Politkovskaya of the Novaya Gazeta, whom the rebels had specifically asked to intervene.

The Russian authorities have said they will spare the lives of the hostage-takers if they release their captives, according to the head of Russia’s FSB intelligence service Nikolai Patrushev.

Those freed today include eight children.

The children aged between six and 12 years and dressed in winter coats looked tired and frightened as they were led from the building by members of the International Committee of Red Cross, who held negotiations with the rebels inside the building.

Earlier in the morning, the rebels had released seven hostages, said to be Ukrainian citizens.

US Consul-General James Warlick has said the negotiations have broken down. The reasons for the failure were not specified.

Head of the Russian Red Cross Alexander Zharkov disclosed that copies of passport of some of the hostages were given to gunmen while the Russian NTV channel, which was allowed inside the theatre today, said the hostage-takers had put forward more demands for the release of the foreigners.

The atmosphere inside the theatre is said to be becoming increasingly threatening with reports that many of the hostages have been tied to their seats and some have had explosives strapped on to them, a BBC website report said.

Dr Leonid Roshalsky, a child surgeon, who went inside the building, said the hostages were surviving on water and chocolates as captors had refused to allow in food supplies.

According to him most people were calm barring one or two women who were hysterical.

Emergency services have pleaded with the guerrillas to allow them into the building to fix the burst hot water pipe.

The situation was further compounded with the “malfunctioning” of the heating system, a FSB official said.

Six of the hostages, who were allowed to talk to a Russian NTV crew that went inside the building today, said they had been divided by the rebels into groups.

NTV also showed footage of the captives and the gunmen with arms and explosives strapped to their bodies as the Russian authorities said they had identified most of the estimated 50 captors as ‘Russian citizens’ and launched judicial action against them.

Moscow Prosecutor Mikhail Avuduvkov said judicial action had been launched against the hostage-takers for terrorism, murder and hostage-taking.

Meanwhile, impatient relatives of the trapped people held demonstrations outside the building demanding an end to the military operations in Chechnya.

With hopes of foreigners being released, diplomats from various countries gathered at the complex to receive their countrymen, which included Americans, Britons, Austrians, Dutch and Germans.

The hostage-takers are being orchestrated by their separatist Chechen leaders, including Aslan Maskhadov from bases in Chechnya and some foreign countries, NTV said.

The Kremlin rejected the demand of the separatist captors of a Russian pull-out from the turbulent Caucasian province official sources said, adding that Mr Putin was firm on the presence of Russian troops in Chechnya.

According to a German TV channel, the director of the musical that was playing in the theatre when the rebels took them hostage said a powerful bomb was in the building.

“A powerful bomb is laid right in the centre of the theatre hall, the stage and aisles are mined,” Georgi Vassiliyev told his wife on mobile.

“Approximately 15 armed persons, men and women, stay constantly in the auditorium. They are wrapped in explosives. They watch all aisles, wings and basement for the attack team to appear,” Vassiliyev said.

“All hostages and terrorists are highly strung,” he was quoted as saying. 

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