Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov says Basayev directed school attack

Friday, September 10th 2004, 9:07 pm
By: News On 6

MOSCOW (AP) _ Russia's foreign minister said Friday that Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basayev directed the hostage-taking raid on a school in southern Russia last week and Arab militants participated.

The minister, Sergey Lavrov, did not offer any evidence for the claims, made in an interview with the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera.

``I know for certain that Shamil Basayev directly managed this operation,'' Lavrov said, according to his ministry's transcript of the interview.

Other Russian officials had said evidence linked Basayev to the attack in a school in a region neighboring Chechnya, but Lavrov's statement was the clearest accusation against the prominent rebel leader.

Basayev has carried out a number of dramatic and bloody hostage-takings in the past in his campaign to drive Russian forces out of the restive republic of Chechnya.

Lavrov also said that earlier reports from Russian officials that Arabs were among the attackers had been confirmed. Officials have said about 10 of the hostage-takers were Arabs.

``The information that there were Arabs has been confirmed, as has been information that there were representatives of other nationalities, among them, as I understand, Russians, a Ukrainian, Chechens, Ingush,'' he said.

Lavrov said identifying bodies after the ``bloody drama'' that ended the three-day standoff at a school in the North Ossetia region was ``not so simple,'' but that there is no reason to question statements that the attackers came from various ethnic groups.

At least 330 hostages _ many of them children _ were killed when the standoff turned to violence at the school in Beslan, in the southern Russian region of North Ossetia, near Chechnya.

Lavrov also laid indirect blame for the school seizure and other attacks on Aslan Maskhadov, the rebel leader and former president of Chechnya.

He pointed to statements in which Maskhadov has been cited as condemning terrorist attacks but at the same time warning attacks would continue if Russia's policy in Chechnya and the North Caucasus does not change.

``This is direct incitement of terrorism, if not verification of the fact that he has directed all this,'' Lavrov said.

He said any calls from the West for dialogue with Maskhadov or others like him cannot be accepted ``as a serious reflection of the partnership that is developing between Russian and the United States, between Russia and Britain, and with other countries in the fight against terrorism.''

Such negotiations would not end the war in Chechnya and would ``mean the defeat of Russia in the war against terrorism,'' Lavrov said, adding that talks with Maskhadov would be like European leaders negotiating with Osama bin Laden.

``If Europe categorically refuses to hold any negotiation with bin Laden, why should we, in Europe' opinion, have contacts with his followers and disciples?''