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Swiss survive Russian hostage crisis

Moscovites pray on Saturday for the victims of the hostage crisis RTS

The Russian hostage crisis in a Moscow theatre has ended with the deaths of at least 118 hostages and 50 Chechen rebels, while another 350 people have been injured.

Five people with Swiss passports or ties to Switzerland came out of the ordeal relatively unscathed.

Russian special forces launched an assault on the theatre early Saturday morning after the rebels began shooting hostages, according to officials. Gas was also used during the attack to stun the hostage takers.

Some of the hostages were incapacitated by the gas and are undergoing treatment.

Swiss ties

The Swiss embassy in Moscow and the consular services of the Swiss foreign ministry are taking care of five people involved in the crisis, said Manuel Sager, a ministry spokesman.

One is a German-Swiss national, two Russian employees of the Swiss chemical company Clariant, and a Russian mother and her 10-year-old daughter who live in Villars-sur-Glâne, canton Fribourg.

The young girl was released by her captors on Friday.

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, regretted on Sunday the high number of victims, offering his condolences to the victims’ families. He refused to comment the use of gas by the Russians during the assault.

The minister also expressed his relief the hostages were released and that Swiss were hurt or killed during the standoff.

Red Cross involvement

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has refused to comment the outcome of the Moscow crisis. Spokesman Vincent Lusser had not been involved since Friday night.

The ICRC had dealt with humanitarian aid for the hostages from Thursday morning onwards. Red Cross delegates were able to enter the theatre a number of times and also managed to organise the release of some hostages.

Both the Russian authorities and the Chechen commando had asked the ICRC to act as a go-between.

The head of the Red Cross delegation in Moscow, Michel Minnig, met with the separatists. He was also able to give them lists carrying the names of all the foreign hostages prepared by the embassies and the children who were released.

Two Swiss doctors, including a psychiatrist, sent to Moscow at the request of the Russian government, are now standing by.

Chechen war

The crisis began on Wednesday evening when a group of around 50 Chechen separatists took over the theatre, where a popular musical was being staged. Over 750 people were taken hostage, including 71 foreign nationals.

The rebels from the breakaway Caucasian republic were demanding an immediate end to the war in Chechnya and the withdrawal of all Russian troops.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR