5th Sept. 2004

BBC News

Russian troops moved in after explosions were heard inside the school

Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot has been trying to defuse a row over a European Union statement on Russia's handling of the Beslan hostage crisis. In a statement on behalf of EU foreign ministers, Mr Bot had said the EU would like to know from the authorities how the tragedy could have happened.

That sentence has now been deleted from the official statement after a furious response from Russia. At least 330 people died after gunmen took over the school in North Ossetia. "Insolent, odious and deeply offensive" is how the Russian Foreign Ministry described the Dutch foreign minister's remarks. But Mr Bot said there had been a misunderstanding and he would personally phone his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to explain what he had meant. He said he just did not have enough information about what exactly had happened in the school in Beslan and so declined to comment on the way the Russian authorities had handled the crisis.

'More security'

But Andreas Gross, the Council of Europe's rapporteur on Chechnya, told the BBC he thought Mr Bot actually had a point. «The Dutch minister was totally right because what we just heard on the news, that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wants to enforce more security troops, he wants to have a new crisis management, that's not the point,» he said.

«They have to understand what the people are who do not share their own point of view. And this is a political task they have to learn.» ... «And in this sense the Dutch minister made a very, very soft attempt to make them think about this, too,» he added.

Mr Bot called on all countries to work together to fight terrorism. More information from the Russians about the handling of the siege would be very helpful because, he said, we should learn from each others' mistakes. But the row over the wording of the statement underlines fundamental disagreements between Europe and Russia about how Moscow deals with the conflict in Chechnya.

Andreas Gross


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