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'Impotent rage' of siege parents

Militants sporadically firing from the school


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BESLAN, Russia (CNN) -- TIME magazine's Moscow bureau chief Paul Quinn-Judge, just 100 meters from the Russian siege school, witnessed personally how negotiations with hostage takers had broken down.

He told CNN's Monita Rajpal of an "eerily quiet" night outside the school and of the anger and helplessness of waiting parents.

Rajpal: Paul, can you give us the latest?

Quinn-Judge: Very little has changed. The guerrillas are sporadically firing from the school where they are. Either they are firing to unnerve people or they are firing because the see some kind of movement of troops that they don't like. This is still very much a standoff and it looks to stay that way for quite some time.

There are lots of people on the street, they have nothing else to do, they say they are not getting information from the government and these are the people who have relatives and friends inside the school. And they wait and see what is happening.

They are particularly unhappy about the way they have been treated by the local and by extension the national government. The government here still hasn't been able to work out how many children or adults are being held in the school, they say it is at least 350, local people say that is a drastic understatement. But again we see a regime that has often portrayed itself as being tough and efficient but when it is put under pressure it becomes very shaky and not terribly efficient.

Rajpal: What is done about the conditions? We understand that food, water and medicines are not allowed to be taken inside the school, what do we know about the conditions?

Quinn-Judge: We don't know about the conditions. There have been a couple of bland reassurances by local government officials and representatives of the republic's president saying that the situation is quite okay. Nobody really knows.

All we can say, as we are about 100 meters away, is that the houses around here at least have running water so one hopes therefore that the school has sanitation and maybe some drinking water. Otherwise, as you have already reported, there has been no progress in effort to get food into the school and I believe the guerrillas are deliberately cranking up the psychological pressure both on the government and ordinary people here.

Rajpal: From what we understand the contact between negotiators and the hostage takers has been severed. What more can you tells us about more attempts to get in contact with them?

Quinn-Judge: Again, we just had very bland and very general assertions that they are trying. The most concrete thing we were told several hours ago was, that the guerrillas had turned off their phones. Therefore, by implication, it is up to the guerrillas to turn on their phones before any negotiations can restart.

There is a land line to the school which we've tried phoning and nobody picks it up but obviously they are not going to deal with anybody on that line it seems. So at the moment the initiative on negotiations would appear to be completely in the hand of the hostage takers.

Rajpal: Paul, you touched upon this but just tell us a little more about how family members, how people on the street where you are, are reacting. What are they saying about how Moscow is handling the situation?

Quinn-Judge: For a start is it still, as it was last night, eerily quiet, people are almost paralyzed by grief and anxiety as you can certainly imagine, they fully understand the horrible implications of their children and loved ones being taken hostage by people who are willing to die for their cause and take other people with them.

There is real anger that has come out on a few occasions during the few briefings given here from local people to the officials.

This morning for example when local officials said, well, they didn't think there were more than 350 children in the school, people where shouting things like "You don't know yet, you can't find out, how big is this city? What you mean 350, that is a lie, have you no conscience?" They are very angry. There is a sense a sense of betrayal, a sense of impotent rage about what is going on.


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