January 9, 1996
Web posted at: 10:45 a.m EST (1545 GMT)
MOSCOW (CNN) -- Chechen rebels took over a hospital and were holding at least 1,000 civilians hostage Tuesday in a town in the neighboring republic of Dagestan.
The rebels, holed up with patients and workers at the hospital in Kizlyar, about 60 miles northeast of the Chechen capital Grozny, were demanding that Russia withdraw its troops from Chechnya and end its 13-month war against separatists there. They have said they will shoot the hostages if their demands are not met.
Dagestan's Interior Ministry told CNN that earlier street-to-street fighting with Russian troops has stopped and talks have started between Dagestani political leaders and the rebels in the hospital.
The exact number of hostages was unclear. Dagestan's Interior Ministry told CNN that the group's rebel leader said 3,000 hostages were being held, but officials put the number at no more than 1,200. The number of rebel fighters also is in question, with reports ranging from as few as 70 to as many as 400.
The ministry said the rebel leader has said he will kill 15 hostages for every Chechen killed. ITAR-Tass news agency reported that a member of the group negotiating with the rebels said two hostages already have been killed.
The rebels are said to be members of a group called "Lone Wolf," reportedly from the Chechen town of Gudermes, where a recent Russian attack killed scores of civilians. The group is said to have been founded last year by Salman Raduyev, the son-in-law of Chechen separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev, who is in hiding.
At least 13 people were killed in street fighting after the rebel attack on the border town of Kizlyar began Monday.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin convened his powerful Security Council in Moscow Tuesday, angrily berating top officials for allowing the rebels to slip over to Dagestan virtually unnoticed.
"The border guards overslept," Yeltsin said.
"How should I understand you, generals? Do you think this is kids' play?" he asked. "What have you done instead of effectively setting up outposts, building up forces and barring the way to the rebels?"
Earlier, presidential spokesman Sergei Medvedev said Yeltsin intended to "undertake the most resolute action to restore law and order."
Russian officials sent in extra security forces to Kizlyar and stepped up security in Moscow to prevent terrorist attacks.
Assault on airport repulsed
The Chechens took over the hospital after they were held back from the city's airport, said Leonid Golovnyov, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior in Moscow. Two helicopters reportedly were blown up at the airport.
The rebels were shooting at troops from inside the hospital, using as cover the bodies of their hostages, Golovnyov said. Hundreds of Russian troops surrounded the hospital.
The rebels also controlled a nearby high-rise apartment building and a bridge, news agencies said.
Though Chechen rebels are no longer capable of fighting prolonged battles with Russian troops, they have been able to inflict serious damage with guerrilla attacks.
Last June, for example, Chechen rebels seized hundreds of hostages at a hospital in the city of Budyonnovsk. More than 100 hostages were killed before a negotiated settlement was reached.
Thousands of Russian troops entered Chechnya on December 11, 1994, to halt the republic's drive for independence. Some 20,000 to 25,000 people, mainly civilians, have died in the subsequent fighting.
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