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Another 14 Russian doomsday sect members emerge from dugout-3

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Fourteen more members of a doomsday sect emerged on Tuesday from their dugout in central Russia after five months underground, hours after most of the remaining roof collapsed.
(Recasts throughout, adds details, background in paras 6-8, 12, group's name in 10)

PENZA, April 1 (RIA Novosti) - Fourteen more members of a doomsday sect emerged on Tuesday from their dugout in central Russia after five months underground, hours after most of the remaining roof collapsed.

Two of those to come to the surface were young girls aged eight and 15. Another two children, including an eight-month-old baby, are among the 14 people still underground, according to regional authorities.

The sect dug out their hideaway in the Penza Region last year and went underground in November to await the end of the world, which they expect in May. They also threatened to set themselves on fire if any attempt was made to remove them by force.

The regional administration's spokesman, Anton Sharonov, told RIA Novosti: "At 7:14 a.m. [04:14 GMT] the collapse occurred. Due to the critical situation, the authorities again asked them to leave their cave. At 9:45 a group of 14 came to the surface."

Seven women left the shelter on Saturday.

The 14 that emerged today turned down offers of medical help, Penza Region Deputy Governor Oleg Melnichenko said.

Emergencies officials said the sect members were now in the nearby village of Nikolskoye, staying at house belonging to one of them.

Rescue workers have meanwhile cleaned up and reinforced the entrance to the cave following its collapse, clearing the way out of the cave for the others still inside, emergencies officials said.

"All the reinforcements have been completed. Rescuer workers have removed soil from the passage leading to the cave. The sect members will also have enough air underground as an 11-meter air pipe was lowered down into the cave at the weekend," officials said, adding that 15 rescue workers were on duty day and night at the dugout.

The group was founded by Pyotr Kuznetsov, known to his followers as Father Pyotr. It was established on Tuesday that the group is known as "Heavenly Jerusalem."

Kuznetsov, who has been held in an asylum in Penza since November, was declared mentally unfit to stand trial last Wednesday. He was earlier charged with inciting religious and racial hatred. He recently explained his decision not to join his followers in the cave by speaking of "another mission in life."

Negotiators failed on Tuesday to convince those sect members still underground to come to the surface. Talks are set to continue on Wednesday.

Rescue workers earlier announced that the shelter, dug out by the sect members over a period of one and half months, was in danger of collapsing entirely as thaw waters had weakened the structure.

Various groups earlier held talks with the sect members without managing to secure a promise that they would come to the surface.

A local official earlier said that the main aim of the psychiatrists and religious leaders who had been negotiating with the sect was to convince the group to allow their children to leave the cave. However, he said the sect's response was, "The children have suffered enough in this world. You are talking about their bodies, but we are speaking of their souls!"

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