Bombed market was 'guns bazaar' claim Russians

Click to follow
The Independent Online

RUSSIA ADMITTED yesterday that it had launched an attack on a market in Grozny, the Chechen capital, in which the Chechens say 140 people were killed and 400 wounded. But Russia claimed that those who died were buying or selling weapons. Witnesses say many were women and children.

RUSSIA ADMITTED yesterday that it had launched an attack on a market in Grozny, the Chechen capital, in which the Chechens say 140 people were killed and 400 wounded. But Russia claimed that those who died were buying or selling weapons. Witnesses say many were women and children.

Chechen officials said 10missiles hit Grozny on Thursday evening, damaging a maternity hospital, a mosque and a food market, which was packed with customers. Yakha Umalatova, a witness, said she heard a hissing sound in the air when she stepped outside her small café by the market. She said: "I fell to the ground and then ran to my café and saw my co-worker, Malikha Istamulova, lying on the ground with her leg torn away."

Khussein Osmanov said: "I saw a man engulfed in flames running across the market. We managed to put out the fire, and he ran away in shock, half-naked."

Another missile landed a few hundred yards away in the yard of the city's Central Maternity Hospital. Dr Zarema Lalayeva said: "We had just handled the deliveries of two women and sat down to rest when we heard the blast in the yard, and plaster and shards of glass fell on us." Nurses carried buckets filled with shell fragments taken from the bodies of the injured.

The casualties in Grozny from the explosions are far more severe than any other incident in the war. The attack appears to have been carried out deliberately with the intention to cause severe loss of life. Some Russian analysts say that the motive may be to force the remaining civilian population in Grozny to flee.

Russia has now produced four different explanations of what happened in the market, underlining the lack of a chain of command. Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister, who is in Helsinki attending a meeting between Russia and the European Union, denied that Russian forces had carried out the attack. He called on the international community "to recognise the Chechen regime as criminal".

He suggested that the street market was destroyed in a battle between different Chechen gangs. Mr Putin was clearly unaware that one of his own military spokesmen was at the same time admitting the attack, but claiming that the target was an arms bazaar.

Alexander Veklich, spokes-man for the Russian forces in the North Caucasus, contradicted earlier Russian denials but maintained the target was an arms market, adding: "If there were victims they were those who sell arms and ammunition to gangsters."

There is an arms bazaar in Grozny but eyewitnesses and television pictures leave little doubt the Russians destroyed a food market. Yet another Russian explanation was provided by Alexander Zdanovich of the Federal Security Service. He admitted a food market had been destroyed, but claimed arms and ammunition was stored there and suggested there had been "a spontaneous explosion of ammunition which led to loss of life".

Meanwhile, the Defence Ministry in Moscow denied any involvement in the attack and said claims to the contrary were "a wanton provocation".

Comments