Aerial attack on Chechen village takes toll to 450

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The Independent Online

A RUSSIAN air strike has killed 32 people in a village in Chechnya, bringing to 450 the number of civilians who have died in the past two weeks, a Chechen leader said yesterday.

A RUSSIAN air strike has killed 32 people in a village in Chechnya, bringing to 450 the number of civilians who have died in the past two weeks, a Chechen leader said yesterday.

There is no sign of the Russian air and artillery strikes ending as the Russian security services threatened to kill or capture the Chechen military commanders who led the incursion into Dagestan last month.

"Russia has launched a full-scale war against Chechnya, breaking the peace treaty signed by the Chechen and Russian presidents," the Chechen President, Aslan Maskhadov, said in an interview published yesterday. "In this situation I had no other choice but to declare war." Mr Maskhadov, a former Soviet army officer who helped to lead the Chechens in the 1994- 96 war, said that 20 Chechen fighters and 100 Russian soldiers had died so far in the conflict.

Russian forces now control the northern third of Chechnya and describe Mr Maskhadov's government as illegal, apparently abrogating previous peace agreements. Moscow is trying to establish an administration of Chechen exiles on the territory it has captured. This tactic was tried in the previous war in Chechnya but with little success.

It is unclear whether the Russian army will push further south towards the Chechen capital, Grozny, but the federal security services say they will apprehend or kill militant local leaders blamed for bomb attacks in Moscow, the north Caucasus and the Russian town of Volgodonsk. The main Russian targets are Shamil Basayev and Khattab, local warlords who led the attack into Dagestan last month.

While there is little sign of heavy ground fighting, some 133,000 Chechen refugees have poured into neighbouring Ingushetia to escape the bombing and artillery fire. Russian television has shown a local video of bodies being removed from a bus hit by a Russian tank round. Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister, denies the incident happened.

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