Chechens say they downed 2 jets; Moscow denies claim
October 23, 1999
From staff and wire reports
GROZNY, Russia (CNN) -- Chechen fighters claimed they shot down two Russian warplanes in separate actions Saturday, but Moscow denied the claims.
Meanwhile, Russian forces bombed and fired rockets on rebel positions in the breakaway republic.
The clashes come amid growing international criticism of the Russian offensive. Russian officials defended the Chechnya operation, saying it was a war against terrorism.
The U.S. State Department said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will call Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on Sunday to register the administration's "growing concern" about the situation. Albright is returning to Washington this weekend from a trip to Africa.
State Department Spokesman James Foley told CNN that Albright's message will be that the United States believes the "tragedy in Grozny really underlines the need to move to a political solution and to get a dialogue going" between the Chechens and Russians.
On Friday, a senior Clinton administration official told the Russian ambassador to the United States that Washington views Moscow's escalating campaign in Chechnya as unacceptable.
In Berlin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder condemned the "massacre on the Grozny marketplace," and German politicians urged sanctions against Russia.
Former German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe, in an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, called for freezing Western loans to Russia.
Russian officials reacted angrily to the foreign criticism. Ivanov told European and Mideast policy makers in Mallorca that the only way to protect Russian security was through "war against the terrorists."
Gennady Seleznyov, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, said neither the United States nor any other NATO country has the "moral right to tell Russia how to settle the acute conflict in the North Caucasus "since they bombed the Yugoslavia forces during the Kosovo crisis this spring,"
The Chechen Health Ministry said 163 people had been killed and 380 injured by Russian air and artillery bombardment on Friday and Saturday, the Interfax news agency reported. The toll could not be independently confirmed.
On Saturday, Chechen fighters dug trenches in Grozny, the capital. Commanders have said they expected an assault by Russian troops that were massed less than eight miles from the city.
Russian media reported that some 10,000 more soldiers were being sent to Chechnya to bring the total troop strength to 100,000.
Some official Chechen agencies, including the traffic police, have been evacuated from their Grozny headquarters. Civilians continued to leave Grozny on Saturday, fearing an attack by Russian troops.
But witnesses in Chechnya on Saturday confirmed to CNN that Russian troops had sealed off the last highway into and out of the rebel republic. Russian tanks closed off the road into the neighboring republic of Ingushetia, but it was unclear if they intended to prevent refugees from leaving.
The Russian Defense Ministry had not confirmed the latest highway closing.
The desperation to get out of Chechnya was heightened by Thursday's rocket attack on an outdoor market that killed dozens.
After initially denying any involvement in the attack, Russian officials said the market was a weapons bazaar.
The Chechen command said its troops shot down one fighter- bomber north of Grozny, and a second jet southwest of the Chechen capital.
Russia's air force said its planes had bombed rebel bases Saturday, but denied it had lost any planes. Chechen fighters have shot down three Russian warplanes in recent weeks.
The pilot of the first plane was seen bailing out and appeared to have landed behind Russian lines, while the fate of the crew of the second jet was unknown, the Chechen command said.
Russia sent troops into Chechnya at the end of September, following weeks of airstrikes, with the declared aim of eliminating militants who invaded neighboring Dagestan this summer and were blamed for a series of apartment explosions in Russia that killed some 300 people.
But increasingly, the Russian offensive appears aimed at restoring control over Chechnya.
On Saturday, bombs were heard exploding north of Grozny, and a spokesman at Chechnya's operational press service said that Russian artillery had targeted the city of Argun, 10 miles east of Grozny, in the morning.
Grozny market attack claims 'scores' of lives
Russian Government Internet Network
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