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Red Cross Questions Russia's Use of Opiate Gas - 2002-11-06

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it has expressed its concerns to Russian authorities about the use of a powerful opiate gas to end last month's hostage crisis in Moscow.

The chief of Red Cross operations in Russia, Michel Minnig, says the organization has asked Russian officials to clarify why they chose to use such a powerful gas to end the takeover of a Moscow theater by Chechen rebels. Mr. Minnig says use of a gas of this kind is highly restricted under international treaties.

"It is a complex issue because it is regulated by international conventions, very complex treaties, and this question has been tackled with the Russian officials formally a few days ago," he said. "We have started a discussion on that specific matter asking clarification from the authorities and also sharing some of our concerns.

Mr. Minnig declined to outline the Red Cross' specific concerns. Russia's special forces stormed the theater on October 26. Of the more than 800 hostages, at least 120 are known to have died, alongside nearly all of the 50 Chechen rebels who seized the theater.

Mr. Minnig says the Red Cross has asked Russian authorities to allow his organization to meet with the rebels now in custody.

"We did not have access so far to the hostage takers, which have been captured," he said. "We did ask for access. I sent an official request to the authorities just before leaving Moscow a few days ago and now we are expecting an answer from the authorities."

Earlier this week, Russia's defense ministry said its troops were stepping up their activities in Chechnya to prevent more attacks by the rebels. The ministry said it has received information from the North Caucasus area that separatists were recruiting suicide terrorists.