Assault 'reckless' about hostages

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Moscow -- Izvestia said yesterday that special forces were reckless and disorganised when they launched the assault on Chechen rebels in Pervomayskoye this week.

The newspaper's correspondent, Valery Yakov, who spent three days near the battle zone defying a ban on reporters, described scenes of chaos, confusion and disinformation in which troops showed scant regard for the lives of the hostages.

"To call this an operation to save hostages is, to say the least, cynical," Mr Yakov wrote. "Those who remain alive are not those alleged to have been saved, but those lucky enough to survive."

Mr Yakov reached the village of Pervomayskoye with two other Russian journalists by slipping across the nearby border from Chechnya. "You would need a rich imagination to talk about the borders being sealed with a reliable cordon."

They joined Russian forces in trenches only a few hundred metres from rebel positions on the eve of the storming of the village, which started on Monday with an attack by helicopters and artillery.

The three were ejected on Wednesday after being detained and questioned when they ran into the Federal Security Service director, Mikhail Barsukov, who was in command of the operation.

Mr Yakov dismissed official statements that the storming was necessary because the rebels had shot dead six of the hostages as well as a group of Dagestani elders seeking to negotiate. "Nothing of the kind happened in Pervomayskoye," he said.

"All of the firing by the federal forces landed not so much around the rebels as around the hostages," Mr Yakov said.

"What was actually happening resembled freeing of hostages least of all. This was a real military operation to storm an enemy village using all forces and resources."