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Thursday, 31 October, 2002, 07:24 GMT
Russia seals off Chechen camps
Russian operation inside Chechnya ain 1999
The Russian-Chechen conflict dates back years
Russian troops are surrounding refugee camps along Chechnya's border, as part of a military crackdown following the capture of a Moscow theatre by Chechens last week.

The troops are digging in around Slipsovsk and other refugee camps along Chechnya's border with the republic of Ingushetia.

Moscow is also pressing Denmark to extradite Akhmed Zakayev - a senior Chechen official of detained in Copenhagen - in connection with the mass hostage-taking.

Chechen rebel arrested after Moscow theatre siege
Russia has cracked down on suspected Chechen militants

Meanwhile, the Russian Government has revealed that the gas used in the controversial storming of the theatre - in which 115 hostages died on Saturday - was an opium-based narcotic.

The operation near refugee camps on the Chechen border follows clashes in the area between the army and Chechen fighter in recent days.

One Russian soldier and seven rebels were killed in fierce fighting close to a border village.

Fears

The BBC Jonathan Charles at the border says the Russians want to keep much tighter control over the camps in the aftermath of the Moscow siege.

It was carried out by heavily-armed guerrillas demanding indipendence for Chechnya.

Akhmed  Zakayev
Zakayev has been arrested in Denmark
The Russians are keen to ensure there is no more trouble, using the army to crack down on the rebel groups, our correspondent says.

But the thousands of refugees at Slipsovsk camp are worried.

They say they fear the Russian troops are about to carry out mass arrests, detaining young men for interrogation.

On Wednesday, Russian Health Minister Yuri Shevchenko lifted a veil of official secrecy about the gas used during the assault.

He said it was based on fentanyl, a potent opium-based narcotic.

The disclosure followed pressure from Western governments, whose citizens were among the hundreds of hostages poisoned by the gas.

There has been speculation that Russia's use of the gas may have violated the international Chemical Weapons Convention.

Fentanyl
Potent opium-based man-made narcotic
Used in medicine as pain killer
50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine
Dosage care needed with frail or young patients

And Mr Shevchenko's statement came after a request for clarification about the gas from Rogelio Pfirter, director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The minister stressed that the fentanyl gas, widely used in medical practice, "cannot in itself be called lethal".

He attributed the hostage deaths to the use of the chemical compound on people who were in a poor condition after three days of captivity - dehydrated, hungry, lacking oxygen and suffering acute stress.

Wanted man

Russia is pressing Denmark to extradite Akhmed Zakayev, a senior official of the ousted Chechen Government detained in Copenhagen, whom it suspects of involvement in the mass hostage-taking.

Russians protest against Denmark holding the Chechen conference
Russia strongly objected to Denmark holding the conference
Denmark, for its part, says it wants more evidence from Russia before it will agree to hand over Mr Zakayev, a senior envoy of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov.

He was arrested in Copenhagen where he had been attending the World Chechen Congress - a gathering that had enraged Moscow.

Russia believes he was also involved in other "terrorist acts" between 1996 and 1999.

A Danish court ordered the detention of Mr Zakayev until 12 November.

"Russia should also promise that Zakayev would not receive the death penalty," the Danish Justice Minister, Lene Espersen, said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Richard Slee
"It is thought the Russian army may now carry out mass arrests"

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Chechen conflict

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30 Oct 02 | Health
30 Oct 02 | Europe
30 Oct 02 | Media reports
30 Oct 02 | Europe
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