Members of an apocalyptic Russian sect in the country`s central Penza Region remain underground as efforts continue to persuade them to come to the surface, a local MP said.
Some 30 sect members, including four children, sealed themselves in a cave last week to await the end of the world, which they say is due in May 2008.
"There has been no change in the situation," said Gennady Eroshin, adding that the children involved were in good health.
"We have offered to exchange the children for a member of the rescue team, yet the sect has not responded," he went on.
The sect, which calls itself "The True Russian Orthodox Church," was formed by one Father Pyotr, a 43-year-old diagnosed schizophrenic. He is believed to have ordered his followers underground last week, declining, however, to join them in the snow-covered cave. Father Pyotr is currently in police custody.
The sect`s underground shelter is thought to be well-stocked with food and other supplies.
The group`s members have also taken petrol and other explosive materials underground, and are threatening to set fire to themselves if any attempt is made to force them out.
"Any intervention on our behalf could lead to harm being caused to the people [sect members]. They are psychologically disturbed and we can`t predict what might happen. We have to continue negotiations," Eroshin added.
Alexander Dvorkin, a Russian religious expert, said that totalitarian sects were common in Russia, and that "control over their members is absolute, and anything that comes into the heads of their leaders has a direct effect on the entire group."
He also added that the group in the Penza Region was similar in outlook to those pseudo-Russian Orthodox groups calling for the canonization of Stalin and Ivan the Terrible.
Meanwhile, a Russian tabloid, Tvoi Den, earlier cited a police source as saying, "If talks don`t work, we will fire sleeping gas into the tunnel. The gas is not harmful for human health."
It was not immediately clear why the group decided to go underground this month if they are not expecting the apocalypse to arrive until May of next year.
One of the most well-known sects in Russia has its base near the southern Siberian town of Abakan, where thousands of people, both Russian and foreign, worship a former Russian provincial traffic policeman, Sergei Torop, as the second coming of Christ.
sections: Society, Region News
regions: Central region