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6 Red Cross workers slain at Chechen hospital

December 17, 1996
Web posted at: 9:00 a.m. EST (1400 GMT)

MOSCOW (CNN) -- The Red Cross has shut down its operations in Chechnya after the shooting deaths of six staff members at a hospital compound early Tuesday morning.

Unidentified gunmen broke into the staff residence of the compound at Novye Atagi, 11 miles southwest of the Chechen capital Grozny, and shot to death five female nurses and a male architect while they slept.

Two of the victims were from Norway, and one each from the Netherlands, New Zealand, Canada and Spain. A Swiss doctor was seriously wounded. Their names were not released.

Chechnya Map

Red Cross officials at the agency's Geneva headquarters called the attack an "outrage."

"There's no doubt at all that the people who targeted the delegation knew exactly what they were doing," said spokeswoman Kim Gordon-Bates. icon (252K/23 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Gordon-Bates said the remaining staff members at the hospital were being pulled out of Chechnya, and added that the closure of the hospital would be unfortunate for the Chechen victims of the 21-month long battle with Russia for independence. Tens of thousands died in the fighting that ended in August with the signing of a fragile peace agreement.

Chechen Vice Premier Movladi Udugov told the ITAR-Tass news agency that the attack was "a dreadful link in the chain of provocations aimed against the fragile peace in Chechnya."

But Red Cross spokesman Tony Burgener said it was simply "an assassination."

"We are strongly condemning this attack, which is a serious violation of international humanitarian law," he said. "The hospital was clearly marked with Red Cross signs all over it."

The hospital -- the Red Cross's only such facility in Chechnya -- was opened in September with assurances from Chechen and Russian leaders. Bertrand Kern, deputy director of the agency's delegation in Moscow, said 40 patients were in the hospital at the time of the attack.

Sporadic violence and kidnappings have continued since the peace agreement was signed, and those actions are usually blamed on rogue rebel commanders. Russia has threatened to stop its troop pullout, now under way, if the problems continue.

Rebel commando Salman Raduyev, who reportedly has no connection with the independence movement's political and military leadership, kidnapped at least 21 Russian soldiers last Saturday, and negotiations are still under way for their release.

Aid workers have been targets in the past. A Red Cross worker was briefly kidnapped in Grozny last month, and the Novye Atagi hospital has been robbed.

Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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