Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Chechens Reject Trade of Freedom for Hostages

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Chechens Reject Trade of Freedom for Hostages

Article excerpt

Chechen gunmen holding at least 1,200 people in this southern town rejected government offers of food, money and transportation out of the country in return for releasing their captives.

"Let them come and storm the place," the rebels' commander, Shamil Basayev, said in the hospital in Budyonnovsk, a southern town some 90 miles from the Chechnya region.

"We are sick of watching our villages being bombed, and our women and children being killed," he said. Russian forces invaded Chechnya in December to regain control of the republic, part of Russia.

With talks between the two sides apparently stalemated, the Russian defense minister, Pavel Grachev, suggested that a strike by special forces was the only way to free the hostages quickly.

Other officials were more cautious, acknowledging that any such operation could end in a bloodbath.

The Chechens have been holed up in the city hospital since Wednesday. The names of 627 people known to be hostages have been posted in the town, and more than 650 others were listed as missing and presumed held hostage in the hospital.

The list of missing was growing all day long, and officials acknowledged there could be 2,000 or more hostages. The Chechens, for their part, said they were holding 5,000.

Led by Basayev, the former third-ranking member of the breakaway Chechen government, about 70 to 80 Chechen fighters drove about 100 miles north from Chechnya and stormed the provincial town at lunchtime Wednesday.

The rebels attacked the police station, city hall and a communications center and abducted men, women and children from their homes. They herded their captives like cattle to the hospital on the outskirts of town, where patients and medical staff also were made hostages.

More than 90 people were killed in the rampage, including police officers, and many more were injured. The Chechens said they killed another five military officers among their hostages late Thursday. …

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