Akhmed Zakaev (file photo) (CTK)
A Russian parliamentary commission on 28 December released its preliminary report on the 2004 school siege in the North Ossetian city of Beslan. More than 330 hostages, most of them children, were killed in a chaotic battle between Russian forces and the hostage-takers on the third day of the siege.
Aleksandr Torshin, the deputy speaker of the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, said local authorities committed a number of mistakes during the hostage crisis, and that the high death toll could have been avoided.
But Akhmed Zakaev, deputy prime minister in Chechnya's separatist government and its special presidential envoy abroad, says former Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev and then-North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov had attempted to negotiate the safe release of the hostages. He also said former Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov was ready to assist in negotiations with the hostage-takers, who were demanding an end to the war in Chechnya.
Zakaev spoke yesterday from London with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service:
"On the morning of 2 September, Ruslan Aushev and Dzasokhov called me. We had a conversation. We discussed one issue. They told me that the people who had seized the children had a demand -- to end the war [in Chechnya]. And that's why [Aushev and Dzasokhov] had contacted me. They discussed the possibility of [then-separatist leader] Aslan Maskhadov or someone from our government intervening in order to determine what was going on.
"That night I managed to get in touch with Maskhadov. I told him about their request. He told me to do everything possible to get there [to Beslan]. He also asked me to tell Dzasokhov that he [Maskhadov] was ready to personally participate in saving the children, keeping anything bad from happening to them.
"I passed that on to Dzasokhov during a conversation on 3 September. [Dzasokhov] thanked me and said that he had not expected us to act any differently, and that he needed two hours in order to the arrange how I would get [to Beslan]. He said he needed to hold some discussions in order to get that done. But before half an hour had passed, the storming of the school began. And everything that happened, happened.
"Regarding Aslan [Maskhadov] -- and this is entirely true -- he decided to go [to Beslan] himself as well. For that, we required only one thing. We didn't demand any kind of guarantees; we just wanted them to help him get there. So that we didn't have to organize it ourselves.
"They say that special security services contacted me. But there were no security forces. There was only Dzasokhov and Aushev. But I have no doubt the security services were standing behind them. I also have no doubt that the security services that were behind them were there to obstruct the negotiations that Dzasokhov was involved in. Their main task was to prevent us from coming there, and to do that they began that spontaneous storm [of the school]."
A special webpage devoted to the first anniversary of the tragedy at Beslan.