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DATE=10/9/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=CHECHNYA CASUALTIES (L-ONLY) NUMBER=2-254844 BYLINE=PETER HEINLEIN DATELINE=ELISTANZHI, RUSSIA INTERNET=YES CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov has admitted that the current military campaign in Chechnya is causing heavy civilian casualties. V-O-A correspondent Peter Heinlein visited a Chechen village where funeral services were being held for 34 victims of a Russian air strike. TEXT: /// act wailing of women /// The people of Elistanzhi buried their dead Saturday, cursing the jets that streaked over the village two days earlier, raining bombs and machinegun fire over hundreds of buildings. The village school was heavily damaged. Fortunately, the principal had declared a holiday, or casualties might have been far higher. As it was, many of the dead were children. Russian military spokesmen say they are targetting Chechen rebel bases, supply depots and ammunition dumps. But at least twice this past week, the victims have been civilians. Chechen officials say more than 400 non-combatants have died since Russian tanks and aircraft began striking inside Chechnya in late August. Many here fear a repeat of the Chechen war of 1994 to 1996. That conflict left an estimated 80-thousand people dead, most of them civilians. The most recent air raids, along with a two-pronged incursion by Russian ground forces, have triggered a mass exodus of frightened Chechens. The line of cars stretches more than a kilometer back from the border of neighboring Ingushetia, where well over 130- thousand refugees are already camped, many of them under open sky. But the people of Elistanzhi say those leaving are those who have enough money to flee. They are simple villagers, with cows and chickens to take care of and crops to harvest, and the only road to neighboring Dagestan 20 kilometers away has been blocked by Russian troops. The villagers say they have little choice but to stay. Sixty nine-year-old Parja Chumakova stands in a blackened field, tears streaming down her weather- beaten face. She says her p-r-e-g-n-a-n-t daughter- in-law was among the victims of the bombing. /// Chumakova act in Ingush /// She says, "We are not fighting, just sowing potatos and bringing in the crops, then bombs fall on us like apples." Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said this Chechen campaign is aimed at wiping out bandits, blamed for a series of apartment building bombings that killed nearly 300 people. But forty- eight year old Leyla Kaimova, whose eleven-year-old daughter was gravely wounded in the air strike on Elistanzhi, says the bandits are going free and common people suffer. /// Kaimova act in Ingush /// she says, "Tell Mr. Putin he is fighting against little girls and women, not fighters." She then adds, "We're not bandits; They are." She looked down at the chickens rummaging through the blackened earth and said, "Look, chickens all around. Those are the only fighters we have." (SIGNED) NEB/PH/JP 09-Oct-1999 19:32 PM EDT (09-Oct-1999 2332 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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