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Hostage Crisis In Russia Enters Second Day

2 September 2004 -- A group of armed men are holding for a second day today some 350 hostages, including children at a school in Russia's southern republic of North Ossetia.

While casualty figures vary, North Ossetian Interior Minister Kazbek Dzantiev said 12 civilians have been killed. He also said 15 students have so far managed to escape.

The armed men stormed the school in the town of Beslan early yesterday on the first day of classes in the new school year. It is not clear what the hostage takers are demanding or who they are.

Reporting from Beslan today, an RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent reported: "Single gunshots and short bursts of fire were heard [inside the school] all night. Some time ago, the people who seized the school fired at a neighboring private house, but nobody was hurt. Other shots were fired inside the school."

Valerii Andreev, the regional chief of the Federal Security Service, said the authorities had "identified" some of them but gave no details.

"Investigation operations continued actively throughout the night," he said. "We were able to identify some of the terrorists that are inside the school, and we are also identifying their relatives in order to involve them and use their influence to try to resolve the situation positively."

Officials say on-and-off contacts by telephone with the hostage takers were continuing today but they were still refusing to accept food and medicines. A North Ossetian official today put the number of hostages at 354. Some 130 of them were earlier reported to be children.

Speaking today on national television, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russian forces are dedicated to safeguarding the lives of the hostages. "Our main task, of course, is to save the lives and health of those who became hostages," he said. "All actions of our forces involved in rescuing the hostages will be dedicated exclusively to this task."

It remains unclear who the hostage takers are, or why they stormed the school in Beslan. The hostage takers have reportedly threatened to kill children and blow up the school if they are attacked by Russian forces that have surrounded the building.

(compiled from agency reports)

For the latest news on the hostage situation in North Ossetia, see RFE/RL's webpage on Ossetia.