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Tragedy at Russian School Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Jide Keye, Nigeria Sep 15, 2004
Child & Youth Rights   Opinions
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On September 3, 2004, the world was shocked to learn that a group of terrorists numbering between 20 and 30 had broken into a Russian school in Beslan, a small town in southern Russia, on the opening day of the school. The Russian authorities seriously underestimated the number of persons affected by the raid, beginning with figures as little as 150. The actual numbers were later to be found to be in the region of 1, 200, many of them were children.

The Russian authorities, mindful of the fact that children were involved in this attack, promised that they would not storm the school buildings. They commenced negotiations in earnest. The hostage-takers were demanding the release of certain Chechen prisoners and the granting of independence to Chechnya, a largely Moslem enclave in the South of Russia. The negotiations appeared to be working with the initial release of some hostages.

But things moved too slowly, the terrorists became ruthless and violent and on-going negotiations ended in large-scale tragedy. It was a most condemnable and disturbing event. Unknown to the outside world, the hostage –takers were as ruthlessly efficient as they were merciless. They had wired the entire premises of the school and herded their captives into a gymnasium, where the children were denied water and food. The searing heat in the overcrowded gymnasium forced the children to shed their clothes. Some doused their urine on themselves to keep cool while others drank it to quench their thirst.

Later, some explosions occurred within the gymnasium where the children were herded. It would appear that some of the bombs wired by the hostage-takers accidentally detonated forcing to intervene militarily. The scene was of utter bedlam as the security forces not having cordoned off the area were soon joined by concerned parents and even journalists in an attempt to save the children.

The terrorists seeing that they were losing control began firing indiscriminately on the fleeing children, shooting many in the back. For hours the shooting continued and when it was over, a dark pall fell over Russia. Some 350 children had been killed with another 200 unaccounted for. The images of half-naked, scared and disoriented children, many covered in blood, running helter-skelter or clutching their distraught rescuers have shaken the world. A shocked President Putin cut short his holiday to attend to the massacre.

Since then the entire world, including Moslems, have condemned the barbaric attack of the hostage-takers who are said to be Chechen jihadists supported by Arab terrorists with links to Al Qaeda. The method adopted by the terrorists was singularly virulent. What sort of people can use innocent children to make a political point? The terrorists must know that the world is unanimous in its condemnation of their action and belief that no cause whether religious or political justifies the killing of children. The hostage-takers in their blind rage crossed the line that defines humanity and have committed an act of sacrilege.

President Putin has vowed to pursue the terrorists to wherever he can find them and he has warned that he could launch pre-emptive strikes. Under pressure, he has now agreed to a parliamentary enquiry into the entire episode. The parliamentary group must provide answers to many questions the world is asking. How did the terrorist gain entry in such large numbers without being spotted? Is it a case of rampant corruption and inefficiency among the security forces of Russia?

It must be recalled that prior to the incident in Beslan, two aircraft on an internal flight were blown out of the sky within minutes of each other by a suspected Chechen female terrorist on August 24, 2004. The incident led to the death of 89 persons on board the ill-fated aircraft. Less than a week earlier, a suicide bomber blew himself up killing nine and wounding scores of others at the busy Moscow subway. Clearly, all the incidents and the ones before them, portrays the Russian Federation as become very weak. President Putin has a duty to restore the confidence in his capacity to provide for their security.

Presidents Putin has ruled out any possible negotiation with terrorists. This initial hard-line is to be expected given enormity of the crime committed against the Russian people. But the cycle of violence must be broken. At some point, government must begin to look into the root of the causes of terrorism or pander into it, but to find out what leads some persons, including women, to descend to such horrible acts of bestiality.

In case of Russia, the Chechens have been agitating for independence for the past ten years. From our understanding, the Chechens are peaceful people who favour a policy of dialogue with their fellow country men. It is a small band that has decided to use terror as a weapon of choice. Whether the Chechen succeed in getting some autonomy and in what form must ultimately be as a result of negotiation. Resorting to revolting barbarity only makes their case worse and may have irretrievably damaged their cause.

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