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Putin makes surprise visit to Beslan

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Last updated on: September 04, 2004 15:20 IST

Making a surprise pre-dawn visit to the southern city of Beslan where the school hostage crisis has left 250 people dead and over 650 injured, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday said the militants had tried to incite inter-ethnic strife in the region and warned against succumbing to such provocation.

Putin arrived in Beslan on an unannounced visit with no official present to even receive him. From the airport, he drove in a minivan straight to Beslan Clinical Hospital to talk to doctors and hostages undergoing treatment.

"The whole of Russia is worrying and mourning with you," Putin said during a meeting with local authorities in the city in the province of North Ossetia.

"One of the goals of the terrorists was to incite inter-ethnic strife and blow up the North Caucasus. All those who give in to terrorist provocations aimed to blow up the North Caucasus will be considered as their accomplices and as cooperating with them," he was quoted as saying by Itar-Tass news agency.

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"I have ordered that Beslan and the state border in North Ossetia be sealed, targetted checks be carried out in order to find out those involved in this terrorist act," he said.

Reaffirming that different scenarios had been considered in Beslan but no use of force had been planned, Putin said, "The situation developed very rapidly and unexpectedly."

He said law enforcement officials 'showed incredible courage' and sustained heavy losses.

Putin, who visited the wounded at the hospital wards, said the hostage-taking crisis occupied a 'special place' in a series of recent terrorist acts in Russia because it 'targetted children'.

He said Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu would stay in the republic to coordinate aid to the victims and their families.

"It is not the first time that North Ossetia has been attacked by terrorists. The republic is Russia's outpost in the south but this terrorist act is especially cruel and inhuman, as children were attacked this time.

"It is necessary to draw up the lists of all people who need aid and support. We will do everything we can to help people, assist them in treatment. If it is necessary to send children for rehabilitation, we will do that as soon as they are fit to travel," Putin said.

The end to the crisis came when a tank fired at one of the outhouses in the school complex destroying the structure where the last batch of militants had been holed up engaging security forces in an encounter. Five militants were captured alive when they tried to flee from the school in civilian dress, TV channels reported.

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Over 10 members of the Russian Special Forces were killed when troops stormed the building, Interfax news agency said.

Twenty seven militants, nine of them of Arab descent and one black man, were also killed, local crisis cell officials were quoted as saying by the Russian news agencies.

This was the second hostage drama in Russia in two years after Chechen militants seized a Moscow theatre in 2002, which resulted in the death of 129 hostages.

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