PERVOMAYSKAYA, DAGESTAN: In a tiny Dagestani village in a Russian republic that abuts Chechnya, officials have so far failed to negotiate the release of the more than 100 hostages held as human shields by Chechen rebels seeking safe passage home after their raid on the town of Kizlar. "A convoy of 11 buses, packed with hungry, exhausted women and children, and two trucks filled up with corpses, sits in the lazily falling snow on the frozen mud road," reports TIME's Yuri Zarakhovich. "Some 250 Chechen rebels, their guns and bazookas at ready and their fingers itchy on triggers, have deployed a defense perimeter around the convoy. The corpses in the trucks are their slain accomplices. Some 25 Russian tanks have taken the Chechen defense perimeter in a half-circle. The two sides are separated by less than 300 yards." Despite ongoing negotiations, a top Russian military official on the scene, Major General Alexander Mikhailov, said that a violent conclusion may be necessary: "These bandits must be annihilated."