• ACI Russia

08/03/1998 17:12:39 Russians told "shoot to kill" Arctic jailbreakers

MOSCOW, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Police and troops hunting three armed fugitives in

one of the remotest areas of Russia's Arctic coast were ordered to shoot them on

sight on Monday, three days after the jailbreak gang fought gunbattles with

their pursuers.

RIA news agency said fog had lifted after two days, allowing helicopters to

be brought back into the deadly chase at Cape Schmidt, on the bleak north coast

of the Chukotka peninsula, facing Alaska and nine time zones east of Moscow.

The heavily armed escapees, two conscript soldiers facing murder charges and

a local man, may be running out of food, the agency said, and so could be

tempted back towards one of the tiny settlements around the desolate cape.

Two other fugitives were killed and six recaptured on Friday but poor

weather closed in, preventing helicopters from flying and allowing the three

survivors to evade detection.

Six conscripts and five civilians had fled their cells early on Friday,

killing a guard and seizing 23 Kalashnikov assault rifles, a machinegun and

other weapons and ammunition.

After stealing two army vehicles and raiding a local store for liquor, they

were finally run to ground by security forces using helicopter gunships near the

settlement of Leninsky, where fighting broke out. Two policemen and two of the

fugitives were killed and six others, some of them wounded, were arrested.

Prospects for the three remaining escapees looked grim.

The nearest settlement of any size, the regional capital Anadyr with a

population of under 20,000, is 500 km (300 miles) away. There are few roads and

they are easily guarded.

The wilderness is so forbidding that in the days when the region held gulag

labour camps, prisoners were often not fenced in as flight meant virtually

certain death.

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