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World - Europe

Russia opens Chechen borders as Moscow denies military-civilian split

Russian Helicopter
Russian soldiers board a helicopter that will take them to Bamut, west of Grozny  

Russians back attacks on breakaway republic

November 6, 1999
Web posted at: 2:10 p.m. EST (1910 GMT)


In this story:

Borders open for fleeing refugees

Russia tries to get refugees to return home

Many applaud Putin's hard-line stance

Several villages under attack

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



From staff and wire reports

GROZNY, Russia (CNN) -- Russian jets continued to bomb Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, on Saturday, and Chechen authorities say that dozens of civilians were killed in the raids. They urged Moscow to end the military attacks and begin peace negotiations.

Chechen officials said at least 32 people were killed in the latest round of air and artillery bombardments, including eight children and 12 women. More than 4,100 civilians have been killed since the Russian military campaign began in early September, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov said Saturday.

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Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Kazbek Makhashev quoted Maskhadov as saying that he was "ready for any form of negotiations (with Moscow) to stop the war and the deaths of civilians," the Interfax news agency reported.

Russia has consistently rejected calls for negotiations, saying it must first eliminate Islamic militants in Chechnya, whom it blames for attacks on the neighboring Russian republic of Dagestan and for deadly bombings at several apartment buildings in Moscow.

Borders open for fleeing refugees

Refugees
Chechen refugees are kept from crossing into Ingushetia at the checkpoint in Sleptsovskaya  

In Saturday's attack, Russian forces targeted central Grozny and a nearby residential neighborhood. The Associated Press reports that just before the planes attacked, many people were out in the streets enjoying a warm, sunny day.

Several residential buildings were badly damaged. Pillows and mattresses were blown outside by the blast and lay scattered in the streets.

Thousands of terrified Chechens have fled into the neighboring Russian republic of Ingushetia in the past few days since Russian forces opened border crossings.

It's estimated that in all, about 200,000 people have fled Chechnya since Russia's military campaign began about six weeks ago.

Scores of injured civilians have been arriving at hospitals in regions around Chechnya since the border reopened.

In a hospital in Nazran, Ingushetia's capital, makeshift beds were set up in corridors as the overcrowded hospital tried to accommodate the growing number of wounded. An Associated Press reporter saw many children and women with burned faces and missing limbs after Saturday's bombings.

Between 10 to 15 people arrive every day at the hospital, which gets about one in 10 of all injured in Chechnya, said the head of the trauma department, Ibragim Murzabekov.

"I am deeply convinced that a third of Chechnya's population that survives the war will be disabled in one way or another," he said.

Russia tries to get refugees to return home

Moscow is trying to entice refugees from Chechnya to return to the Russian-controlled part of the breakaway republic.

Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu on Saturday said the Russian government has selected 17 towns and villages in Chechnya it considers safe for the refugees' return. He pledged that federal forces would guarantee the safety of returning refugees.

"The main part of the (Russian government's) work will be to ensure people's return to towns liberated from terrorists," Shoigu told a news conference.

Many applaud Putin's hard-line stance

Putin
Putin  

Despite reports of a growing number of civilian casualties and pressure from the West to find a political solution to the conflict, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Russia's military campaign was not about to let up. He called for "liquidating the bandit republic" in an interview published Saturday.

"If the so-called Chechen problem is not solved, if the hot spot of banditry and terrorism in the rebel republic is not destroyed, then the Caucasus would be lost and a `sanitary zone' will have to be created around Moscow," Putin told the Kommersant newspaper.

As the attacks on Chechnya continue, Putin's popularity is rising. One respected poll indicates he is the leading contender to replace President Boris Yeltsin, who cannot run again after his current term is over.

Russian political analyst Andrei Kortunov told CNN that many Russians see the attacks on Chechnya as a "defensive war."

"Chechens tried to attack Dagestan and therefore it is perceived as a fair war, as a just war, by the majority of Russians," Kortunov said.

He said many Russians also believe the attacks are justified because of the recent explosions at several apartment buildings, which Russian officials claim are linked to Chechnya.

Several villages under attack

In addition to Grozny, Russian forces shelled the villages of Krasnostepanovskaya and Katyr-Yurt over the past 24 hours, the military said Saturday. Federal forces also said they have blocked off Chechnya's second-largest city, Gudermes, and were trying to crush rebel resistance there.

An Associated Press reporter near the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia saw a column of about 200 tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery headed toward Bamut on Saturday.

Russian forces were also dug into heights about five kilometers (three miles) north of Grozny. The army has not tried to move into Grozny proper, where it suffered huge losses in street fighting with guerrillas in the 1994-96 war.

In the city, Chechen militants were digging trenches and building fortifications to repel a possible Russian attack. "Let them come, we are waiting for them," a field commander who only gave his first name, Musa, said Saturday.

Correspondent Mike Hanna and Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Russia controls flow of refugees out of Chechnya
November 1, 1999
Red Cross says Russian attack on refugees killed 2 of its workers
October 30, 1999
U.S. urges peace in Chechnya; Chechens say Russians attacked refugees
October 29, 1999
U.N. sending humanitarian mission to Chechnya region
October 28, 1999
Russian jets bomb central Grozny
October 27, 1999
Russian forces bombard northern limits of Chechen capital
October 26, 1999
Russian forces push closer to Grozny
October 25, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Russian Government Internet Network
ITAR-TASS Home Page
Russia Today
Russian Resources
Russian Chronicles
Interfax News Agency
CaspianNet: Dagestan Republic
Chechen Islamic rebels (Russian)
Chechen Republic Online
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