Hours before the battle broke out that ended the hostage crisis, North Ossetian President Alexander Dzasokhov called Chechen separatist envoy Akhmed Zakayev for assistance in negotiating with the terrorists, Zakayev said Sunday.
The Thursday night phone call, which was apparently made with the Kremlin's blessing, was a reversal of the President Vladimir Putin's hard-line policy of refusing to talk with separatists -- even those considered moderate, like Zakayev and separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov.
Zakayev lives in London after having been granted asylum last year but remains on Russia's wanted list for allegedly helping organize terrorist attacks.
"Dzasokhov told me that there are more than 1,000 people in the school and most of them children, and that the main demands are for Putin to issue a decree stopping the military operation in Chechnya and for the withdrawal of federal forces," Zakayev said by telefone, wrote The Moscow Times.
The sound of weeping mothers who lost their sons and daughters in Russia’s school siege drifted out of the homes of Beslan on Sunday as the first burials were held for some of the 338 people killed.
Alina Khubechova celebrated her 11th birthday the day before Chechen separatists seized her school last week. Four days later her parents buried her, grasping a picture of the pretty brown-haired girl.
The President of North Ossetia, where the hostage drama unfolded, apologized for failing to avert it. "I understand my responsibility. I want to beg your pardon for failing to protect children, teachers and parents," Alexander Dzasokhov said, looking distressed with tears in his eyes. In another sign of officials taking responsibility for the bloodbath, the regional Interior Minister Kazbek Dzantiyev offered his resignation. It was not accepted.
North Ossetian spokesman Lev Dzugayev said 428 people remained in local hospitals and 260 were unaccounted for. A number of serious cases were taken to Moscow and other cities, reports Indian Express.
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