Five killed in labour camp riot in Russia: Officials admit criminals are kept in atrocious conditions

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The Independent Online
SPECIAL Interior Ministry troops had to be brought in to quell a riot at a Russian hard-labour camp, and five inmates were shot dead in the ensuing battle, it emerged yesterday.

A television report said the prisoners 'demonstrated active resistance and disobedience' and the authorities had no option but to use firearms against them.

The trouble broke out early on Wednesday morning at the Vyazniki camp in Vladimir region, east of Moscow, a 'tough regime' correctional centre for dangerous criminals. A group of about 30 convicts managed to force open a passageway between two areas of the camp and then persuaded a further 1,000 to barricade themselves in on one side. The remaining 500 members of the camp's population refused to be drawn into the protest, which was for better conditions.

Itar-Tass news agency said senior labour-camp officers tried to negotiate with the prisoners for 14 hours but they ignored appeals for order and set fire to two barracks. The authorities became concerned that the protesting criminals might be about to 'deal with' some of the other convicts who had not supported them, and Interior Ministry troops were called in.

'In the course of this operation,' Itar-Tass said, 'the convicts offered fierce resistance, attacking officers with metal objects, stones and bricks and even trying to capture fire engines and an armoured car. This being the situation, in accordance with the legislation, a decision was made to use firearms.'

Five prisoners were killed and another 14 injured, and 30 soldiers had to be taken to hospital. By evening the riot was over and the investigations had begun.

Russian labour camps, complete with barbed wire, watch-towers and guard dogs, still look very much as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, author of The Gulag Archipelago, described them, although today they hold common criminals rather than dissidents.

Yesterday, the London-based Amnesty International issued a report in which it said it had found only two political prisoners in Russia, both of them youngsters who had refused to do military service. They are now free.

But the criminals are kept in atrocious conditions, which the authorities themselves are the first to admit. Yesterday a meeting of prison officers in Moscow, apparently called in response to the riot, said millions of roubles needed to be spent to cope with the flood of prisoners coming in as crime rises in the new free-market Russia. Describing the deterioration of prison and labour camp buildings as catastrophic, the officers said that in some camps a single plank bed had to be shared by three to five inmates.

Russia has ordered warships from the Pacific Fleet to protect its merchant fishing vessels in the East China Sea after another incident of heavy-handedness by a Chinese navy boat.

Itar-Tass said Chinese guards had 'rained the deck' of the Russian cargo ship Valery Volkov with sub-machine-gun fire to detain it as it was carrying metal from Vladivostok to China recently. The ship was later released. Last month the Chinese navy also used weapons against a Russian factory-ship.

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