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Russians Target Rebels in Chechnya

Conflict: The Kremlin rejects the U.S. State Department's complaints of human rights abuses in the breakaway republic.

January 13, 2002|From Associated Press

VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia — Moscow sent bombers and helicopters in aerial assaults against rebels in Chechnya, pressing a campaign that has drawn renewed U.S. allegations of rights violations--and a sharp Kremlin retort to the American claims.

An official in Chechnya's Moscow-backed administration said Saturday that Russian aircraft bombed two areas in the breakaway republic during the previous 24 hours, while helicopters struck another region and artillery was used elsewhere.

Five Russian soldiers and police officers were killed and five wounded in fighting or land-mine explosions, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He said more than 100 suspected rebels were detained in security sweeps.

The official spoke two days after Russian troops lifted a blockade of Chechnya's third-largest town, Argun, following a roundup of suspected rebels that prompted clashes and protests involving residents who claimed that they were abused by Russian troops.

In Washington on Thursday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "The latest information on Russian operations in Chechnya indicates a continuation of human rights violations and the use of overwhelming force against civilian targets."

He also said Moscow had failed to pursue contacts with Chechen separatists to reach a peaceful settlement to the conflict.

In a Kremlin information office statement carried by the Itar-Tass news agency late Friday, President Vladimir V. Putin's administration rejected Boucher's remarks and said it regretted the tone of his statement.

The Itar-Tass report also quoted the chief prosecutor and the prime minister in the government of Chechnya as saying that no human rights abuses had occurred during the Russian operations in Argun.

As it has since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, Russia equated its campaign in Chechnya with the U.S.-led war against terrorism.

"Our experience in Chechnya and America's experience in Afghanistan show how hard it is sometimes to reach terrorists and to prevent any harm on civilians. Nevertheless, that is the goal of Russia and the United States," Itar-Tass quoted the Kremlin as saying.

Putin threw his country behind the United States in the wake of the terror attacks, improving relations between the two nations and softening Washington's criticism of Russia's war in Chechnya.

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