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Friday, 25 October, 2002, 13:19 GMT 14:19 UK
Children freed from Moscow siege
Two of the children released on Friday
The children were frightened but in good health
Eight children have been released from the theatre in Moscow where Chechen guerrillas are holding hundreds of people hostage.

Relatives have staged anti-war protests
The children, looking tired and frightened, were led from the building by members of the International Committee of the Red Cross who had held negotiations with the rebels inside the building.

Russian authorities have offered to spare the lives of the Chechens if they release more than 600 remaining hostages unharmed.

But the hostage-takers appear unmoved.

Latest reports from Moscow radio say they have threatened to start executing their captives on Saturday morning if their demand for a Russian withdrawal from the breakaway republic of Chechnya is not met.

They have already killed one woman and wounded another as she escaped.

Repeated attempts to secure the release of 75 foreign nationals were frustrated on Friday, though seven people, all Russians, were let out early on Friday morning.

I am amazed this hasn't happened before now. The Chechen war has been both brutal and dubious

Conditions for the captives, who have been held since the guerrillas stormed the theatre in the middle of a sell-out musical on Wednesday night, have worsened.

There are growing concerns about food and sanitation, though the gunmen have allowed a medical team in to visit the sick.

Relatives of the hostages have been staging anti-war demonstrations outside the theatre and in central Moscow, apparently on the Chechens' orders.

Aggressive atmosphere

"If the hostages are released, we will guarantee that the hostage-takers' lives are spared," Federal Security Service (FSB) head Nikolai Patrushev was quoted as saying.

gunwoman (NTV)
The rebels are armed and wearing explosives
"We are carrying out negotiations and will continue to carry them out. We hope that they will bring positive results regarding the release of hostages," he said.

The offer was made after a meeting between the FSB and President Vladimir Putin.

The atmosphere inside the theatre is said to be becoming increasingly threatening, with reports that many of the hostages have been tied in their seats and some have had explosives strapped on to them.

Food is reportedly running low.

Despite hopes that the release of the children - aged between seven and 13 - could pave the way for the freeing of foreigners, there has been no apparent progress.

Two deadlines for the release of the foreign hostages have passed and there is now said to be no schedule for their release.

The British ambassador in Moscow has visited the theatre but came back empty handed. Experts have been sent from London to help negotiate.

Vladimir Putin
President Vladimir Putin has cancelled foreign trips

The foreign nationals include Americans, Britons, Germans, Dutch, Australians and Ukrainians.

Relatives of foreign hostages who have spoken to their loved-ones, say the rebels want their cause to be as widely publicised as possible, to bring international pressure to bear on the Russian Government.

About 200 hostages were freed in the hours after the guerrillas invaded the theatre.

TV visit

Earlier, the rebel leader, Movsar Barayev, told a TV crew he would release several children if an interview with Russian journalists was broadcast.

Footage of Mr Barayev, along with other masked men and veiled women wearing what appeared to be explosives strapped to their chests, has been shown - though so far without sound.

The pictures showed that the rebels were also armed with assault-rifles, grenades and pistols.

Mr Barayev, nephew of a late Chechen warlord, has told the Chechen rebel news agency Kavkaz-Tsentr that his "suicide fighters" were prepared to die for Chechen independence.

The BBC's Louise Bevan
"Reinforcements continue to arrive at the scene"
Official Chechen spokesman Salih Brandt
"The Chechen government ... denies any involvement in this event"
Hostage's relative Justin Leonard
"The atmosphere internally seems quite calm"

Siege reports

Key stories

Chechen conflict



See also:

25 Oct 02 | Europe
27 Sep 02 | Europe
25 Oct 02 | Europe
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