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Human Rights Group Seeks Inquiry into Russian Hostage Crisis - 2002-10-29

The human rights organization Amnesty International is calling for an investigation of the Russian hostage crisis in which 117 people died.

The head of Amnesty International, Irene Khan, condemned the hostage-taking. Ms. Khan said taking people hostage is unacceptable under any circumstances.

But at a news conference Tuesday in Moscow, Ms. Khan said the way the Russian forces dealt with the situation has raised questions that need answering. "The biggest problem is, of course, lack of information. There is a lot of speculation, a lot of rumor and I think it is in the interest of the Russian government, in order to set those rumors to rest, that there should be on open, transparent, independent investigation of what has happened," she said.

Ms. Khan arrived Saturday. After a news conference Tuesday she told VOA there is still no information about what type of gas was pumped into the Moscow theater, and it has been very difficult to talk with former hostages who were inside the building.

She said authorities should investigate whether it was necessary to use force and if the force that was used was proportionate to the threats posed by the hostage-takers inside.

Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist who went into the theater and negotiated with the rebels, also took part in the news conference. She was asked about comments from Russian officials that force was the only way out of the hostage crisis.

Ms. Politkovskaya said that is the type of thinking of people who did not have loved ones in the theater.

Russian officials have given few details of Saturday's raid and have not revealed what type of gas was used to subdue the hostage-takers before Russian forces went in. Almost all those who died during the crisis were killed by the effects of the gas.

The gunmen stormed the theater Wednesday night and rigged it with explosives. They threatened to blow up the building if Russian forces stormed in. Russian officials said they prevented the hostage-takers from using the explosives and thus saved hundreds of lives.

World opinion has been mostly supportive of Russian President Vladimir Putin. U.S. officials put the blame for the incident on the hostage-takers and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said there was no risk-free solution to the standoff.