TITLE=REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: CHECHYNA SNAPSHOTS
INTRO: War has again broken out in Chechnya. Three
years after Russian troops were forced out of the
region, they are back. They have already captured more
than one-third of Chechen territory and are advancing
on the capital, Grozny, vowing to re-establish
Moscow's control over the entire breakaway region. But
Chechen fighters are dug in, expecting a long war.
They appear confident they can fend off another
invasion. V-O-A correspondent Peter Heinlein has just
returned from the war zone. He came away with these
impressions of a battle-scarred land and a traumatized
/// SOUND OF ARTILLERY FIRE, IN AND
The rumble of artillery fire is a constant reminder to
Chechens that their brief period of relative
independence from Russia is in jeopardy -- Not that
they need any reminder.
Many of them -- maybe as much as 25 percent of the
population -- have already fled. They remember that
most of the 80 thousand people who died in the
previous conflict in the mid-nineties, were civilians.
// OPT // War is nothing new in the northern
Caucasus. Historians trace the conflict back to the
16th Century, when the mountain people of Chechnya
converted to Islam. The region was finally
incorporated into Russia in 1859, after nearly half a
century of fighting. But the relationship between
Grozny and Moscow was always one of mutual suspicion,
bordering on hostility. In 1944, Soviet dictator Josef
Stalin deported the entire Chechen people to the
barren deserts of central Asia, accusing them of
aiding the German invaders. Many thousands died.
// OPT // When the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991,
Chechnya tried to assert its independence. President
Boris Yeltsin ordered troops into the region in
December, 1994, to crush the rebellion, but they were
forced to withdraw in defeat 21 months later.
///OPT/// It has been almost three years since I last
visited Grozny. The striking thing is how little has
// OPT // Mile after mile of bombed out buildings
destroyed during the last war still stand, as if
frozen in time. They are mute testimony not just to
the fury of war, but to the inability of Chechen
President Aslan Maskhadov's impoverished government to
clear the debris, much less to rebuild the republic.
Journalists swarmed into Chechnya to cover the earlier
conflict. Even at the height of battle, Russian and
foreign reporters roamed the countryside freely,
bringing the world vivid coverage, eventually turning
even Russian public opinion against the war.
Since then, however, few foreigners have visited
Chechnya -- and with good reason. After the war, the
region descended into anarchy. Kidnapping for ransom
became a profitable business for heavily-armed gangs -
- some of them Chechens, others from Russia.
///OPT/// Outsiders were easy and lucrative targets.
In some cases, hostages were killed when ransom
demands were not met.
// OPT // To make matters worse, six International Red
Cross workers at a hospital for war victims were
slaughtered one night in their beds. Other agencies
quickly pulled out their foreign staff. ///END OPT///
So, when war broke out again last month, there was no
rush of reporters back to the scene. Instead, most
news agencies chose to cover the fighting from the
safety of their Moscow offices, depending mostly on
the highly-partisan and still largely state-run media
///OPT/// Then, when the air strikes began, Chechnya's
telephone system was among the first targets. Soon
after, the electricity supply was cut. In addition to
its other, more-serious consequences, the loss of
electricity further crippled the Chechen
administration's ability to compete in the information
war. ///END OPT///
In an effort to counter the information offensive,
President Maskhadov has agreed to provide security for
a few journalists interested in seeing the other side
of the story.
So I am traveling in a group of 10 reporters. There is
safety in numbers. But -- although we are safe -- we
are virtual prisoners of President Maskhadov's
bodyguards. They have arranged a media tour, the main
objective of which is to showcase Russian atrocities.
First stop is Elistanzhi -- a tiny farming village
carpet bombed two days earlier by Russian warplanes.
///ACTUALITY OF WOMAN SOBBING///
It is a ghastly scene. We arrive as mourners are
returning from funeral services for 34 people killed
in the raids. // END ACTUALITY //
///OPT///Russia has portrayed the bombing campaign as
similar to NATO air strikes on Kosovo. But Elistanzhi
clearly shows the difference. NATO jets struck from
altitudes of several thousand meters, using precision
bombs. Witnesses here say two Russian warplanes zoomed
in at treetop level, peppering the village with
shrapnel bombs and machine-gun fire. ///END OPT///
///PETIROVA ACT IN RUSSIAN, THEN FADE.///
Fifty-year-old Yakha Petirova cries "How can they be
such barbarians? We are not fighting. We were
gathering potatoes, and all of a sudden bombs were
poured on us like apples."
///OPT/// But the villagers' anger is not limited to
the Russians who bombed them. They also blame Chechen
leaders and the fighters. At one point, we saw
villagers shake their fists at the heavily-armed
guards accompanying us. //END OPT///
The next stop is a nearby hospital where survivors of
the attack are being treated. There, Doctor Magomed
Berikhanov says the difference between this war and
the last one is that now, after all the killings and
kidnappings of foreigners, aid groups that previously
gave medicine to the hospital have left.
///BERIKHANOV RUSSIAN ACTUALITY, IN AND
He says, "We always managed to find a way to get
medical supplies before, either from the local
population or from Medicins sans Frontieres, or from
journalists who provided humanitarian aid. Now, they
don't operate here".
President Maskhadov expressed a similar lament. In an
hour-long question-and-answer session with visiting
reporters, the Chechen leader worried aloud that --
with no international presence in Chechnya -- Russian
forces will be free to do as they please.
///opt/// The Chechen leader -- in a grim assessment
-- says the recent apartment building bombings in
Moscow and other cities, which were blamed on
Chechens, have whipped up anti-Chechen sentiment,
provided a convenient excuse for a punitive military
campaign and neutralized former anti-war groups in
///MASKHADOV ACTUALITY IN RUSSIAN, THEN
He says "Immediately the Chechen issue is raised.
Chechen aggression. Chechen terrorism. Where else
could they think up an excuse to call us aggressors
and terrorists? There is no proof, no facts, no
evidence. They did not catch a single Chechen."
Last stop on the tour is a 45-minute drive north from
Grozny to the front. There we find Chechen fighters
with rifles crouching in trenches while Russian
artillery pound them from positions across the river,
more than a kilometer away.
These are Islamic suicide fighters. Twenty-four-year-
old Ibrahim Abdulkadirov of Grozny says he would
prefer to die than live under Russian rule.
///ABDULKADIROV ACTUALITY, IN AND UNDER //
` // OPT // He says "When injustice is being done, I
find it difficult to accept it. I'd rather die, have
my parents die, rather than live as slaves. God is the
purpose of our lives." ///END OPT///
Afterward, as we packed up and headed back to Moscow,
I kept asking myself why. Why has war returned to
Chechnya? Did the Chechens bring it on themselves with
the kidnappings, the killings and finally the
apartment building bombings? Did they go a step too
far in August, when a Chechen warlord led hundreds of
fighters into battle against Russian troops in
Or -- as President Maskhadov and other Chechen leaders
imply -- is this all part of a larger plan hatched in
Moscow? Is this simply the revenge of the Russian
generals for the humiliating defeat inflicted on them
by Chechen fighters in the previous war? (Signed)
NEB / ph / wd
17-Oct-1999 11:49 AM EDT (17-Oct-1999 1549 UTC)
Source: Voice of America
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