Gunmen affiliated with a radical opposition group have taken medical personnel hostage in their continuing standoff with the Armenian authorities, police said on Wednesday.
The spokesman for the Armenian police, Ashot Aharonian, said the four medics were taken hostage in the morning after being sent to a police station in Yerevan to provide medical aid to two of the gunmen occupying it. He said the latter were wounded in an overnight shootout with security forces surrounding the compound.
“When the doctors arrived [at the scene] they were taken hostage,” Aharonian wrote on Facebook. “Law-enforcers are taking measures to free the hostages through negotiations.”
According to the Armenian Ministry of Health, the hostages include two doctors, one paramedic and one nurse. The ministry strongly condemned “that immoral action” and demanded their immediate release of the medical personnel “without any preconditions.”
“They even failed to take into account the fact that doctors have been providing necessary medical assistance to members of the armed group since the outbreak of the crisis,” the ministry said in a statement.
The Founding Parliament movement, with which the armed men are affiliated, confirmed that the medics are being held inside the police compound but claimed that they are not hostages.
“The guys are not holding hostages,” Alek Yenigomshian, a senior Founding Parliament member, told a news conference. He said they will let go of the medics if the latter are replaced by another medical team that would treat wounded gunmen there.
International law entitles combatants to medical aid, Yenigomshian said, denying that the gunmen are blatantly violating universally accepted humanitarian norms.
The hostage taking followed the overnight arrest of four other gunmen, including Pavel Manukian, one of the leaders of the armed group. According to the police, Manukian and his son were wounded in a shootout with the security forces.
Yenigomshian insisted, however, that four men were dishonestly tricked by the forces deployed by the police and National Security Service.
The armed group already took several police officers hostage when it seized the police premises on July 17, demanding the release of Founding Parliament’s arrested leader, Zhirayr Sefilian, and President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation. All of those hostages were released by July 23.
The gunmen holed up there have since continued to reject government calls to lay down their arms and surrender.