Russian officials are reporting that talks are underway to the 28 remaining members of a doomsday sect holed up in a cave since last November to come out. Oleg Melnichenko, deputy governor of the Penza region, some 500 kilometres (310 miles) southeast of Moscow, said on national television that seven have already come out due to deteriorating conditions. He expressed concern for the remaining members as the cave has partially collapsed due to melting ice.
"In the interests of the people's security we have to negotiate with them in such a way that they trust us. We don't plan to trick them," he said.
Television pictures showed female sect members in head scarves speaking with those in the cave through a fissure in the hillside. The sect members barricaded themselves into the cave near the village of Nikolskoye in November to await the Apocalypse, which they originally calculated would come in May 2008. Earlier this week, the sect members said they would emerge on Orthodox Easter Sunday, April 27. They had previously threatened to blow themselves up with gas canisters if anyone tried to force them out and appear to have plentiful reserves of food and water.
Orthodox priests have joined local authorities in trying to persuade the members to leave, but have had only limited success to date. Unofficial sects have rapidly grown in popularity in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Pyotr Kuznetsov, the leader of the sect, has not joined his followers in the cave and has been detained in a psychiatric hospital, although he has played a role in negotiations.