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Militants In North Ossetia Demanding Chechen Independence

3 September 2004 -- Militants holding hundreds of hostages in a school in Russia's republic of North Ossetia are demanding independence for neighboring Chechnya.

North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov told parents and reporters today that the militants made their demand during negotiations with former Ingushestian President Ruslan Aushev yesterday.

Dzasokhov also said officials now believe the militants are holding more than 500 hostages at the school in Beslan, revising an earlier official estimate which put the number at some 400. This number is disputed by several hostages released yesterday, who said more than 1,000 people are actually inside the school.

The crisis entered its third day today.

This morning, Valerii Andreev, a top regional Federal Security Service official said talks are continuing with the militants. "Contacts with the terrorists continue at the present time," he said. "These contacts will involve representatives who are able to influence the position of the bandits."

Russian authorities have ruled out using force to end the siege in North Ossetia, and Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday said the most important thing was the safety of the hostages.

(compiled form agency reports)

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

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