Chechens allege Russian victors mistreat PoWs

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Russian soldiers are mistreating wounded Chechen fighters and civilians, refugees leaving the captured city of Grozny said yesterday.

Russian soldiers are mistreating wounded Chechen fighters and civilians, refugees leaving the captured city of Grozny said yesterday.

Aiset Abalayeva, a Chechen woman who was looking for her son, said she had seen seriously injured fighters in the village of Alkhan-Kala, west of Grozny, being "stripped of bandages and blankets before they were loaded into three buses".

They had been taken to a Russian camp that has a reputation stemming from the previous Chechen war for torture and abuse, she added.

Others said that Russian artillery and aircraft continued to bombard villages west of Grozny as the fighters passed through on their way to the mountains. "They are using ground-to-ground missiles on my village of Shaami-Yurt," said Aslanbek Diraiev. "The Russian soldiers were shooting our cattle and eating the meat."

The trickle of people crossing into neighbouring Ingushetia said that the Russian soldiers were making no effort to distinguish between fighters and civilians. "They made my three-year-old son Salamat stand against a brick wall with his hands raised. I asked a soldier, 'Does my son look like a terrorist?' He pointed his gun at my head and said, 'If you say another word I will shoot you between the eyes'," Toissa Chulaeva said.

Chechen military commanders are reported to have been divided over whether to give up Grozny. Aslan Maskhadov, the elected Chechen President, had called for Grozny to be held, while Shamil Basayev, the Chechen warlord who lost a leg in the retreat, decided to remove his fighters from the city.

* Vladimir Putin, Russia's acting president, said yesterday that Russian troops were in full control of Grozny. "A short time ago, the last stronghold of the terrorists' resistance was taken. So the operation for the freeing of Grozny has ended," he told ORT state television.

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