Russians claim key Chechen town

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Russian military claims it had seized a key town in Chechnya after days of heavy fighting, despite sightings of Chechen insurgents still in the area.

The Russian military claims it had seized a key town in Chechnya after days of heavy fighting, despite sightings of Chechen insurgents still in the area.

Russian claims to have taken the town of Argun, a strategic target for more than a week could not be confirmed.

A senior Russian commander said three federal soldiers were killed and 34 wounded in the fight for Argun, while claiming 100 Chechen insurgents were killed and another 400 fled. Russian claims that they suffered almost no casualties while inflicting heavy Chechen losses did not appear credible.

"Those who couldn't save themselves by running were destroyed under the advance of the Russian troops," said Gen. Valery Manilov, according to the Interfax news agency.

Manilov said the Russian troops started a sweep of the city at daylight Friday. He said the military would direct its next attacks on Chechnya's mountainous south, where the rebels have their main strongholds.

Russian commanders admitted earlier this week that they were running in to growing resistance and it could take months to defeat the Chechen forces.

The federal forces are not prepared to risk a major ground attack on Grozny. Such an attack would almost certainly result in heavy casualties and repeat images of the bloody 1994-96 Chechen war the military has been anxious to avoid.

The military have relied on airstrikes and artillery shelling, coupled with small ground battles, to seize ground. Russian forces have surrounded Grozny to the north, west and east.

The Russians again shelled Grozny with air and artillery strikes during the night, hitting several television transmitters, Interfax said. Russian helicopter gunships and jets also hammered Urus-Martan to the south.

The attacks continued to send refugees fleeing west to Ingushetia, where cold-related illnesses were becoming an increasing problem as temperatures hovered below freezing. So far some 233,000 people have fled Chechnya to escape the fighting.

The plight of the refugees and the high civilian casualties have led to strong international criticism of the fighting. The Council of Europe's human rights commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles, who returned from a two-day trip to Chechnya and nearby regions Thursday, urged Russia to stop the fighting.

But Moscow has ignored the international pressure so far, insisting its campaign in Chechnya is an internal matter. Russia claims that its strikes are aimed at Islamic militants, but Chechen authorities, refugees, and human rights groups all say that hundreds of civilians have been killed.

Russian forces entered Chechnya in September following incursions by the militants into neighboring Dagestan and apartment bombings in Russian cities that left 300 people dead. Russia has blamed the militants for the bombings.

Comments