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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 January, 2004, 15:19 GMT
Russian troops 'left to freeze'

By Steve Rosenberg
BBC correspondent in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered an inquiry into the outbreak of a severe respiratory virus among army conscripts in the country's far east.

At least 50 soldiers were hospitalised, some with suspected pneumonia, after being forced to stand in freezing cold.

They were on their way from Moscow to Magadan in Far East Russia where they were due to serve as border guards.

On the way, they were reportedly made to stand on a Siberian runway without warm clothes as their plane re-fuelled.

Russian soldiers
The conscripts also reportedly stayed in an unheated building
When the conscripts reached Magadan - some 6,000 kilometres (3,700 miles) from Moscow - more than 50 soldiers were hospitalised.

Some had suspected pneumonia. One conscript has since died.

On Thursday, the Russian president expressed his outrage.

"They were left in the wind and the cold, and now they're all in hospital," Mr Putin said.

He ordered an immediate investigation and promised that those responsible would be punished.

A spokesman for the Russian border guards told the BBC that as well as being left to freeze in Siberia, the conscripts were forced to spend the night in an unheated building in Moscow before their flight.

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