09/03/2005, 00.00
RUSSIA

Beslan mothers 'believe' in Putin's promises

Russian President says that he does not yet have any answer for the 'hard questions" the mothers made in the Kremlin but assures them that "the truth shall be revealed".

Moscow (AsiaNews) – Putin admitted the authorities were at fault in the Beslan tragedy. But he also pledged that the truth shall come out and the mothers of the victims said they "believe" him.

Back from Moscow where she met President Putin for the first time, Susanna Dudiyeva, head of Beslan Mothers' Committee, said that talking with the President was "difficult and hard" but that the visit was "another step in the fight for truth and justice".

Vladimir Putin had invited 20 people to the September 2 meeting, but only 7 accepted. Ms Dudiyeva was originally opposed to the idea.

Many relatives of the 331 victims are convinced that the President chose this date to play on the raw emotions the anniversary has elicited in people in the hope that they would be more compliant.

North Ossetian President Tejmuraz Mamsurov, who had two of his children among the hostages, accompanied the delegation.

For a year, victims' relatives had been demanding a meeting with state authorities whom they blame for the hostage taking incident's tragic denouement.

In yesterday's closed door meeting, Putin is said to have personally accepted "responsibility" for what happened.

Speaking in a press conference after the meeting, Ms Dudiyeva said the President told the delegation that on September 1-3 he was unaware of the exact number of hostages; he knew of 300-350 people, but the real figure was over 1,200. "He said that the truth about Beslan will come out and we believe him".

Many reporters present at the press conference noted that Ms Dudiyeva repeated "We believe him" several times. National news agencies stressed instead the "free and open" nature of the meeting.

"Putin now says he has a better picture of what happened in a Beslan," Ms Dudiyeva said. She also revealed that the President was asked "hard questions" and freely admitted to not having an answer. He did though express the intention of "finding the truth with us and shedding light on what happened".

The President, who has been blamed for the ways the Special Forces reacted to the Chechen terrorists held up in the school, has pledged a full inquiry into the tragedy.

The President also admitted that the Special Forces used 'Shmel' flamethrowers (banned by international conventions) when they stormed School Nº1.

There "is no excuse for officials' improper fulfilment of their duties", Putin said, but today, faced with terrorism, no "state is [. . .] in condition to provide for the security of its citizens to the necessary degree". Moreover, he added, Russia has lost much with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Back in Beslan, 30 women spent the entire night in the ruins of the school and another 40 held a prayer vigil in the cemetery.

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