Chechen massacre protest grows

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The Independent Online
INTERNATIONAL condemnation of Russia's action in Chechnya, following reports of a brutal massacre by Russian troops there last week, continued to swell yesterday.

The European Union in a statement condemned "in the strongest terms" what it said were flagrant human rights violations against civilians committed by Russian forces. Germany's opposition Social Democratic Party has urged the Chancellor Helmut Kohl to condemn the Russian campaign when he goes to Moscow for VE day celebrations, or to stay at home. France has already formally denounced "brutal attacks on civilians" and voices are being raised in the US against President Clinton's visit to Moscow on 9 May when he and other western leaders will meet Boris Yeltsin and celebrate the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.

Both Downing Street and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office yesterday said there were no plans to change Mr Major's itinerary.

The massacre in the village of Samashki last weekend by the troops, described by many eyewitnesses as drunken and drugged, points to a desperate attempt to wipe out all resistance in the republic before the Western leaders reach Moscow.

This meeting looks increasingly embarrassing for the participants, who will be gathering to celebrate peace with a brutal war as a backdrop to the festivities.

Villagers interviewed by western journalists spoke of Russian troops armed with flame-throwers roasting civilians alive "like shish-kebabs", throwing people under moving tank-treads and lobbing grenades into cellars where civilians had taken shelter from a preliminary bombardment. Residents say that about 300 villagers died. The army denies heavy civilian casualties.

Russian forces were about to take control of the Chechen stronghold of Bamut following an intense military offensive yesterday.

"Bamut will be taken very soon," Mikhail Yegorov, temporary commander of the Russian forces in Chechnya, was quoted as saying.

He said Russian forces have surrounded the village, which has held out for the past three months. Troops moved in on the stronghold in the morning with elite forces, backed by infantry, planes and helicopters, after pounding the hills around the village with Grad rockets overnight.

Many civilians, who were trapped in the village, reportedly feared reprisals like those in nearby Samashki for the long defiance of the local fighting men.

Russia is increasingly embroiled elsewhere on its southern flank in the civil war in Tajikistan, inflamed in a series of attacks by rebels on mountain border posts. Russia retaliated with air-strikes on areas of northern Afghanistan. Although the border is 1,000 miles from Russian territory, Mr Yeltsin vowed to defend what the Kremlin says is "in effect, Russia's frontier".

Leading article, page 26

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