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7 Police Officers Killed in Chechnya; Rebels, Russians Blame Each Other

September 04, 2002|From Reuters

MOSCOW — At least seven police officers were killed and 11 injured Tuesday when an army truck came under fire in Russia's separatist Chechnya region, which has been jolted in recent weeks by an upsurge of violence.

The Russian military said the officers, all ethnic Chechens, hit a rebel mine and then came under heavy fire while traveling through Shali, 18 miles southeast of the regional capital, Grozny.

But local authorities said Russian forces had mistakenly fired the first shots. One senior Russian official accused Moscow's troops of "sloppiness." The office of the Kremlin's Chechnya spokesman confirmed the casualties but gave no details.

Violence has been rising in Chechnya, where Russian forces are engaged in a second post-Soviet drive to crush separatists.

Last month, separatists shot down a helicopter troop carrier, killing 118 servicemen in the worst disaster to hit the military since Moscow sent troops back to Chechnya in 1999. Rebels downed a helicopter gunship last week, killing two pilots.

"The victims were local boys. They were coming back in six, seven vehicles when they were either blown up or hit something," Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the pro-Moscow administration, told Russian television.

Television reports showed a battered truck, its interior sprayed with blood and its doors riddled with bullets.

Moscow claims to have full control over Chechnya, but its troops suffer almost daily losses and pro-Moscow Chechen officials and police are regular targets.

Rebel spokesmen said Russians were responsible for the attack, which "should serve as a good lesson for those Chechens who continue to cooperate with the Russian occupiers."

The commander of Moscow's forces in Chechnya, Gen. Vladimir Moltenskoi, said rebels had mounted a "planned, prepared attack" on police returning from a search operation.

Local officials dismissed the military version and said forces from a local Russian regiment had opened fire in error.

"We heard artillery fire coming from the regiment. My bodyguard was outside and woke me up. He said a shell had hit a target in the town center," Shaid Alikhadjiev, the top local official, told ORT television.

Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, Moscow's human rights envoy in Chechnya, urged local officials to take firmer control. "Can we stop all this lack of discipline and sloppiness that leads to the deaths of servicemen and civilians? I hope civilian authorities will prove they have real control," he told ORT.

The new wave of violence coincided with a fact-finding visit to Chechnya by the Council of Europe.

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