Priests Fail to Get Doomsday Cult Members Out of Russian Cave

Nikolskoye, Russia — Priests tried unsuccessfully to coax members of a doomsday cult from the underground hideout in snowy central Russia where they remained barricaded Sunday.

Rescuers will take medicine and food to more than two dozen doomsday cultists holed up in an underground forest hideout awaiting the end of the world.

The group, which includes children, has threatened to blow itself up with about 400 litres of stockpiled petrol if Russian authorities force members out of their bunker near the village of Nikolskoye, about 640km southeast of Moscow.

On Thursday, Russian Orthodox monks tried to make contact with the cult but members refused to speak with them.

Priests went again Sunday, but the followers refused to listen to their arguments, according to a security official monitoring the crisis.

Regional government spokesman Yevgeny Guseynov said officials were searching for experienced negotiators. Rescuers plan to offer medicine and food to establish contact.

Police were standing guard but Mr Guseynov said "there is no talk whatsoever of any sort of storming" of the site.

Pyotr Kuznetsov, a self-declared prophet who established his True Russian Orthodox Church after he split with the official church, underwent psychiatric evaluation yesterday after being charged with setting up a religious organisation associated with violence.

The engineer, 43, said his cult members initially aimed to dig small refuges where they could spend a day or two in prayer.

But later, "we had the idea of making a big dugout for all of us to go to and stay there, just to avoid acts of hooliganism by the local population".

The 29 people - including four children, one only 18 months old -- have stocked the hideout with food and other supplies.

Kuznetsov blessed his followers, mostly women, before sending them into the cave earlier this month. He said he had not gone because he "had to meet others who were yet to arrive".

Kuznetsov said his group believed that in the afterlife they would judge whether others deserved heaven or hell. They weren't allowed to watch TV, listen to radio or handle money.