11 - 17 November 1999
Issue No. 455
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Chechnya's sad plightBy Abdel-Malek Khalil
This week, Russian warplanes and artillery intensified its six-week-old military campaign in Chechnya, bombarding the centre of the Chechen capital Grozny, killing and maiming hundreds of innocent civilians.
Chechen officials say some 3,200 civilians have been killed by indiscriminate Russian bombings, but the relentless Russian attack -- which is creating a catastrophic refugee crisis -- has failed to demoralise the Chechen people.
Moscow, in total disregard of the overwhelming international condemnations of its war of terror in Chechnya, is determined to ruthlessly pursue its campaign against the Chechen people. But Moscow's Chechen campaign is not about purging Islamist militants -- it is a callous attempt to punish and wipe out an entire people on the basis of their aspirations for national self-determination.
The intensified bombing started on Monday, only one day after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin asserted that an international appeal by Chechen leaders for help in negotiating an end to the conflict would be futile. Russia dropped an estimated 250 tons of bombs on Chechen villages stretching across the breakaway republic, before concentrating its air offensive on Grozny.
At least three women were killed when T-80 Russian tanks opened fire on a convoy of vehicles travelling towards the capital near the village of Akhan Kala. This same village was fired upon from tanks and helicopter gunships, according to Mumadi Saidayev, the Chechen military commander. Two bombs struck the main city intersection of Lenin Avenue and Naradilov Street. Russian forces were also reported to be striking at military barracks in the south of the city.
The Chechen presidency announced there were many deaths and injuries, but observers note that despite the horrendous toll in life and property, the bombing has failed to subdue the will of the Chechen people to defend their unilateral secession from the Russian Federation. Meanwhile, morale among the wearied Russian troops is reported to be low.
Chechnya's second largest city, Gudermes, in the eastern part of the breakaway republic, was also hit by "precision" missiles. A Chechen military commander said that more than 1,000 rebel fighters were positioned in Gudermes in preparation for a possible Russian ground invasion of the city.
Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov appealed over the weekend to US President Bill Clinton and other world leaders to help end the war and initiate talks between Moscow and Grozny. Prime Minister Putin, however, dismissed Maskhadov's attempts. In an announcement to Interfax, he said that "Maskhadov can talk to whoever he wants, even the Pope. As long as he supports terrorists, there is little chance anyone will agree to talk to him."
The Russian military has again warned that it would not tolerate a repeat of the last disastrous 1994-96 war. The Chief of Federal Troops on the western front in Chechnya, General Vladimir Shamanov, said that he would resign if Russia opened peace talks with the separatist Chechen leaders -- calling Chechen fighters "bandits and terrorists" who did not have any popular backing.
In a statement to the public television channel RTR on Sunday, Shamanov said: "In that case, I would immediately tear off my stripes and return to civilian life. I could no longer serve in such an army."