The United States Thursday reiterated its "absolutely firm" condemnation of the hostage-taking in Russia's North Ossetia region despite its past support for a political solution to the Chechnya conflict. Secretary of State Colin Powell has discussed the hostage crisis by telephone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Mr. Powell's talk with Mr. Lavrov follows a call by President Bush to Russian President Vladimir Putin Wednesday, and in both conversations officials say they stressed that the United States stands with Russia in its fight against terrorism and resolutely condemns the taking of innocent schoolchildren as hostages.
The armed militants holding hundreds of young students and others hostage in the Russian school in North Ossetia are demanding that Moscow free Chechen rebels, says Voice of America.
According to the Age, heavily-armed militants released at least 26 women and children from the provincial Russian school where they held more than 350 hostages for the second straight day, officials said.
Lev Dzugayev, an aide to the president of the North Ossetia region, said 26 women and children of various ages were released. His first announcement brought gasps from a huge crowd of relatives and townspeople pressing against barricades surrounding School No. 1 in this town not far from war-ravaged Chechnya.
Other officials also said 26 were freed, but an official at the headquarters for the rescue operation said that there was another group of five people released separately.
An Associated Press Television News reporter saw two women and at least three children, the children in the soldiers' arms. Russian television showed camouflage-clad men carrying babies, one wrapped in a blanket and one without a shirt.
After the 1 September hostage taking in North Ossetia, Russia took the unusual step of asking for an extraordinary session of the UN Security Council. The Russian media noted that Moscow did not make a similar request during the 1999 incursions by Chechen militants into Daghestan or the October 2002 Moscow theater hostage drama. At that time, Moscow might well have felt inhibited about drawing international attention to the Chechen conflict. Now, however, the international climate against terrorism is so heated that the Kremlin ran no risk that the UN's resolution would be anything less than a categorical condemnation of the terrorist attacks in Russia.
Although Moscow did not seek a specific affirmation of its right to respond to terrorist attacks with force, such as the United States did following the 11 September 2001 attacks, it did ask for and receive an unqualified condemnation of the North Ossetia hostage taking. The council asked all UN member countries to render any possible assistance to Russia in its effort to bring the organizers and perpetrators of the school takeover to justice. The statement specifically said that terrorist acts cannot be justified by any conceivable motive. From the Kremlin's point of view, this resolution can easily be presented as an acknowledgment that the Chechen conflict fits under the rubric of the fight against international terrorism, says Radio Free Europe.