Dutch FM sparks row over hostage tragedy
6 September 2004 , AMSTERDAM — Having sparked a diplomatic row with Russia, Dutch Foreign Minister and European Union President Ben Bot has withdrawn part of a statement issued in response to the tragic end to the hostage drama in North Ossetia.
6 September 2004
AMSTERDAM — Having sparked a diplomatic row with Russia, Dutch Foreign Minister and European Union President Ben Bot has withdrawn part of a statement issued in response to the tragic end to the hostage drama in North Ossetia.
The Dutch minister had said the EU "wants to know how the tragedy could have occurred", a comment which sparked the ire of the Russian government. A spokesman for Bot said later that the sentence was removed because it had led to a "misunderstanding" with Moscow.
Bot also said that his words were "consciously or unconsciously" taken the wrong way and denied that he had demanded answers from the Russian authorities. "(Instead) I said that I did not have any information and unfortunately could not judge the situation," he said.
With the death toll from the hostage tragedy mounting over the weekend and unofficial figures estimating the number of deaths as much as 400, Moscow had considered Bot's statement as a demand for an explanation on behalf of the Netherlands.
Russian authorities said the statement was "libellous" and the Dutch ambassador, Tiddo Hofstee, was called in to account for the incident, Dutch public news service NOS reported on Saturday.
The matter is especially sensitive because the Netherlands currently holds the EU rotating presidency.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that everyone could see and read in news reports "that the bloody drama was caused by the terrorists who panicked and reacted according to their instincts".
"In a situation in which everyone knew that the first priority was to rescue the children and that a storming (of the school) should not occur, it comes across as libellous to hear such words from a (government) minister," Lavrov said from Egypt.
In response, Minister Bot said he would ring Lavrov to explain what he meant by the statement. It is not yet known if that telephone call has taken place. He also questioned why the comment had caused so much controversy, claiming that it was an "innocent" statement.
And Australian public broadcaster ABC quoted the Council of Europe's rapporteur on Chechnya, Andreas Gross, saying that world leaders have a duty to keep up the pressure for a resolution to the Chechen conflict.
Bot was again critical of the bloody end to the hostage crisis in the southern Russian town of Beslan, where Russian special forces on Friday raided the school — where more than 1,000 children and adults had been held since Wednesday.
The raid was unplanned and was only put into action after a booby trap explosive was apparently accidentally detonated, possibly prompting one of the hostage takers to detonate explosives strapped to her body. As children tried to escape, the terrorists — possibly Chechen and/or al-Qaeda linked operatives — opened fire on them.
Russian special forces then stormed the school grounds and after meeting with EU foreign ministers in Valkenburg in the south of the Netherlands, Minister Bot said the Russians did not resolve the situation "very nicely".
But he stopped short of issuing a definitive judgment until the Russians released more information. Bot had also said on Saturday that this information was not yet forthcoming. "They are only saying that everything went well," he said.
"In order to better understand what happened in the school, we would like to learn more details from the Russian authorities so we can help each other to combat terrorism in any form anywhere in the world", he said.
On behalf of the EU, Bot had previously said on Friday that the hostage drama was a "deep human tragedy". He has also said that terrorism is a global issue, demanding close co-operation both in preventing and evaluating terror attacks.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that terrorism is incompatible with "morality and humanity" and can only be defeated by a combined effort by all nations.
Despite the similar statements, the latest diplomatic wrangle is not the first time that Moscow has reacted negatively to European criticism. Moscow has accused the EU of hypocrisy, saying that it supports the war against terror, but is opposed to Russia's actions in Chechnya.
[Copyright Expatica News + Novum Nieuws 2004]
Subject: Dutch news