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Russia: Authorities Negotiating With Hostage Takers

Moscow, 24 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Russian authorities say they have resumed negotiations with Chechen rebels who seized a crowded Moscow theater last night. Gennadii Gudkov, an official from the State Duma Security Commission, said officials are discussing guarantees that can be offered to the hostage takers in exchange for the release of captives.

But the hostage takers have backed down on an offer to release their Western captives. Aleksandr Machevskii, a spokesman for the crisis team, said the hostage takers refused to release the foreigners because diplomats called to the scene arrived too late.

Officials said British, Austrian, German, Dutch, and U.S. citizens were among the 600-700 hostages. The male and female attackers have already released some of the captives, including some children and Muslim audience members.

The heavily armed attackers have threatened to blow up the building unless Russian authorities begin withdrawing troops from the separatist republic of Chechnya.

In a phone call to RFE/RL, made under the supervision of an armed attacker, one hostage warned that there were explosives throughout the building.

Meanwhile, governments around the world are condemning the hostage taking as an act of international terrorism.

China's Foreign Ministry today said China condemns all forms of terrorist activities.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said the attack is another link in a long chain of crimes by international terrorists.

Bulgaria said terrorism is unacceptable as a means to attain political objectives.

Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan each condemned the act.

The United States also condemned the hostage taking, with the White House offering its support to help Russia end the crisis.