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The Russian sect whose members went
The Russian sect whose members went into a cave in the country's central Penza Region around a month ago shows no sign of surfacing as the region's presidential envoy urged a continuation of talks on Tuesday.

"To continue negotiations, we need qualified people that they [the sect members] will listen to. Force should be categorically ruled out," Alexander Konovalov said.

The True Russian Orthodox Church went underground in November in order to "save themselves during the time of the apocalypse," which they say will come in May 2008. The group of 29 people, including four children, has threatened to set fire to themselves if any attempt is made to force them to come to the surface.

The envoy went onto speak of the growing sect phenomenon in Russia, saying that, "The root of the problem lies in the fact that there are a lot of people in Russia, who, while not having come to the radical conclusions of those people who went underground, share a similar outlook."

He also said that Russia needed to develop more centers to study and deal with the problem of sects and cults.

"However," he went on, "this is not a sect in the full meaning of the word. These are people who have interpreted the Gospel in a distorted manner."

"The fact of the matter is, however, that their point of view is fairly common," he added.

Religion was tightly controlled in the U.S.S.R. and the collapse of the Soviet Union saw an explosion in sects and cults, as well as interest in New Age philosophies and beliefs. The back pages of many Russian tabloid newspapers are full of advertisements for 'healers' and 'magicians' who promise to bring happiness in love, success in business, as well as a range of other services.

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.

There are currently believed to be around 500-700 such sects in Russia, containing some 600,000-800,000 people.

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