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Hostage Aftermath Cloaked in Secrecy

Prosecutors announced this week that all of the theater hostages -- living and dead -- have been identified. But the secrecy and poor organization that has marked the crisis and its aftermath have fueled rumors of many missing people and a hostage death count higher than the official toll of 120.

"All former hostages have been established and the dead identified, and there is no one missing," the Prosecutor General's Office said in a statement late Monday. Prosecutors said they had no outstanding inquiries from relatives searching for missing hostages.

Last week, however, Moscow city prosecutor Mikhail Avdyukov made the same announcement. Shortly afterward, two families who had been searching hospitals and morgues for several days did file an appeal. On Saturday, they identified the bodies of the two young men who had been missing, Dmitry Rodionov and Yury Sidorenkov. Prosecutors said the mix-up had happened at the hospital, where the two patients had been registered under incorrect names.

Miscommunication among officials has also been a problem.

Valentina Fadina, a member of the city's social services committee, which is responsible for paying out compensation to hostages and their families, said she had full lists of the dead and injured, but would not release them.

"This is confidential information," Fadina said by telephone. "These people have received up to 100,000 rubles [in compensation] and will probably get more from various charity groups, and I don't think they want people knowing who they are."

However, a spokesman for the office of Sergei Yastrzhembsky, who coordinates the Kremlin's information on Chechnya, said a complete list of casualties would be available by the end of the week. It was not clear whether there would also be a full list of hostages.

In the midst of the confusion, a number of Russian web sites have compiled and posted their own lists of names, including people who were believed to have been at the theater the night of the hostage-taking but have not been heard from since.

"We are not sure whether there are still people looking for someone," Renata Rozovskaya, project coordinator for one of the sites, Vazhno.ru, said by telephone Tuesday. Rozovskaya said the site's information came in by e-mail, telephone and through journalists, and those who submitted the inquiries could not always be reached.

The list of missing, which began with more than 150 names, has been shrinking gradually, Rozovskaya said, and was down to 89 people.

"We presume that the majority of them are fine," she said. "If the authorities had been making information public, we wouldn't be doing this."

Secrecy has been a leitmotif of the Oct. 23-26 hostage crisis and the ensuing rescue operation.

Officials originally hesitated to admit that there were casualties among the hostages, and relatives had a hard time breaking through the tight security at hospitals.

A doctor from Hospital No. 7, where about 80 "Nord Ost" patients were brought, said this week that investigators have been confiscating the case files of freed hostages upon discharge. A spokesman for the Prosecutor General's Office confirmed this Tuesday, saying it was standard practice for aggrieved parties in a criminal case.

According to Vazhno.ru, 123 hostages have died -- three more than the official figure given by the Moscow city health committee on Tuesday.

Rozovskaya said that the site's composite list of presumed hostages had 972 names, some 200 more than the latest official figure. She explained that the discrepancy could be attributed in part to different spellings of the same name, but estimated that such cases accounted for no more than 50 entries.

As of Tuesday morning, the hostage count from the city's health committee was 771 -- with 129 still hospitalized and 522 discharged. Prosecutors have said that some hostages who were not affected by the gas used in the raid had left the theater on their own, so they could not be included in this tally.

(The Moscow Times 06.xi.02)

 
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