Geneva, 17 December 1996 (RFE/RL) -- The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) today condemned what it called the "cold-blooded" murder of six of its Western staff by unidentified gunmen in the Russian republic of Chechnya. In a statement, ICRC confirmed it was withdrawing its 14 remaining delegates from Novye Atagi, south of the capital Grozny, later today. The ICRC also named the six victims and the Swiss national in charge of the office, who received gunshot wounds in the attack.
The Swiss-run humanitarian agency said it is profoundly shocked and grieved by this tragedy and vigorously condemns this attack and the violation of the Red Cross emblem.
The ICRC said that six of its delegates were "cold-bloodedly shot dead" this morning by unidentified gunmen at their quarters at the hospital in Novye Atagi, near Grozny.
The ICRC expressed its deepest sympathy to the families of the deceased, "who gave their lives to help the victims of the Chechen conflict," and to the Red Cross Societies of the Netherlands, Norway, Canada and New Zealand.
It named the six, shot in their beds at their quarters at
the hospital compound, as: Hans Elkerbout, Netherlands; Ingeborg Foss, Norway; Nancy Malloy, Canada; Gunnhild Myklebust, Norway; Sheryl Thayer, New Zealand; Red and Fernanda Calado, Spain. Christophe Hensch was the Swiss in charge who survived.
Meanwhile, in Moscow, a presidential spokesman says Moscow hopes the murder of the six Red Cross staff members will not derail the peace process.
Sergei Yastrzhembsky told a news conference in Moscow that despite what he called "tragic excesses" the peace process "will nevertheless be maintained and developed."
Ruslan Kutayev, a minister with the self-proclaimed Chechen government, told Interfax, however, the murders were "a deliberate and planned provocation, aimed at disrupting" presidential and parliamentary elections set for January 27. He did not elaborate.
The six workers, one man and five women, were shot dead early this morning as they slept in their residence in the Red Cross compound in the village of Novye Atagi, 17 kilometers southwest of the Chechen capital, Grozny.
An International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokeswoman, Victoria Catliff, told AFP that masked gunmen entered the hospital courtyard around 4 a.m. and shot them at point blank range.
In Geneva, ICRC spokesman Tony Burgener said a Swiss delegate was wounded in the attack, but his life was not in danger.
AFP says officials investigating the attack said the killers exchanged fire with a security guard before entering the victims' rooms, located on two floors of the building.
Another spokesman for the Red Cross, Kim Gordon Bates, said nothing was stolen in what he called the worst ever attack on its staff members.
The Geneva-based organization has frozen all activities in Chechnya. Burgener says that most expatriate ICRC staff will be evacuated to the neighboring republic of Kabardia-Balkaria during the day and some would go on to Moscow or Geneva.