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DATE=12/28/1999 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=YEARENDER: CHECHNYA WAR, PART TWO NUMBER=5-45138 BYLINE=PETER HEINLEIN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: This past year saw Russia launch a military offensive in its restive northern Caucasus region. The stated goal was to wipe out bandits and terrorists and restore Moscow's rule in the breakaway republic of Chechnya. But as in the previous Chechen war from 1994 to 1996, most of the victims have been civilians. In this end-of-year review, V-O-A's Peter Heinlein reports an increasingly defiant Russia is brushing aside international calls for restraint as it pushes ahead with a brutal campaign to reclaim the rebel republic. TEXT: The last Chechen war ended badly for Moscow. After 21 months of fighting that left an estimated 80- thousand people dead, Russian troops were forced to withdraw in defeat, leaving the region in enemy hands. It was a bitter admission of failure for a once-proud army that only a few years earlier represented a world-class superpower. Humiliated generals blamed political leaders for surrendering just as they were on the verge of victory. They made no secret of their desire to settle the score. Almost three years to the day later, the generals got the chance they were waiting for. Renegade Chechen commander Shamil Basayev led a group of fighters into neighboring Dagestan, where they clashed with Russian troops. Moscow called it an invasion. President Boris Yeltsin ordered his new prime minister, Vladimir Putin, to use all force available to crush the uprising. /// Yeltsin Act in Russian, then fade to /// He says, "There will be tough measures taken. We will restore order in Dagestan and other north Caucasus republics." Within days, Russian warplanes were in the air, striking both in Dagestan and Chechnya. But just as in the last war, the bombs took a heavy toll among civilians. The tiny farming village of Elistanzhi, just a few kilometers inside Chechnya, was among the first to feel the force of Mr. Yeltsin's promise. /// SFX of women sobbing, then under to /// Elistanzhi buried 48 of its townspeople two days after Russian warplanes swooped down and peppered a two- block area with shrapnel bombs. Nearly half the victims were children. Standing in a blackened potato field, her weather- beaten face streaked with tears, 69-year-old Parja Chumakova tells how her pregnant daughter-in-law was mowed down in a hail of bombs. /// Chumakova Act in Russian, then fade to /// She says, "We were not fighting. Just sowing potatoes and bringing in the crops. Then bombs fell on us like apples." The Elistanzhi incident sparked international outrage. But those expressions of concern from foreign capitals only seemed to stiffen Russia's resolve. President Boris Yeltsin, addressing a European security organization summit in Istanbul, bluntly told assembled world leaders to mind their own business. /// Yeltsin Act in Russian, then fade to /// He says, "You have no right to criticize Russia for Chechnya." /// SFX of artillery, then under to /// Meanwhile, the war was expanding. Russian tanks rolled into Chechen territory, quickly taking the northern third of the region, advancing to the heights overlooking Grozny. /// Opt /// The Chechens, with their automatic rifles, were no match for Russia's superior firepower. Twenty-four- year-old Grozny native Ibrahim Abdulkadirov, a devout Muslim sitting in a trench as Russian artillery shells crashed around him, said he was prepared for martyrdom. /// Abdulkadirov Act in Russian, then fade to /// He says, "I am ready to use my gun and kill, and I'm not afraid of death. I'm sure I will quickly go to heaven." /// End Opt /// The Russian offensive, and the steady hail of artillery and rockets, triggered a mass exodus of civilians. A quarter-of-a-million people, nearly a third of Chechnya's pre-war population, fled. But when they got to the border with neighboring Ingushetia, many found Russian troops blocking the roads. /// SFX of gate closing, horn honking, then under to /// Large metal gates had been erected at the border. The line of cars waiting to get out of the war zone sometimes stretched back 15 kilometers. In some cases, people camped along the road for more than a week for a chance to escape. Those who got through told of a constant stream of bomb attacks on towns and villages. /// Tatayeva Act in Russian, then fade to /// "They've been bombing us steadily for four days," were the words of Ausha Tatayeva as she arrived from Grozny. /// Opt /// Many, like 27-year old Tunisha Shamilova, arrived wounded by attacks on their homes, angry and vowing revenge against Russia. /// Shamilova Act in Russian, then fade to /// "I will become a terrorist myself if I survive." But her chances of joining the fight are slim. One of her eyes was destroyed and the other damaged by a shrapnel bomb that killed her mother and wounded her two-year old son. /// End Opt /// Despite these eyewitness accounts, Russian leaders flatly deny civilians are being targeted. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called the reports "lies." /// Putin Act in Russian, then fade to /// He says, "As far as bombing of civilians goes, it is just nasty propaganda done by terrorists. In truth, nothing like that is happening." But James Ron, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, who interviewed hundreds of victims, says the evidence clearly indicates Russia is using indiscriminate force in Chechnya. /// Ron Act /// There are perhaps bandits in Chechnya, but you cannot designate an entire population as bandits. That is the indiscriminate designation of huge numbers of people as enemy targets, which is clearly wrong. /// End Act /// /// SFX of refugees screaming, then fade to /// At the Sputnik refugee camp just across the border from Chechnya, thousands of refugees face a grim existence, surviving freezing temperatures in old railroad cars or overcrowded tent cities. Sputnik camp administrator Tugan Chupanov says malnutrition and disease are constant threats. /// Chupanov Act in Russian, then fade to /// He says, "We are only able to provide bread and water." And even bread is limited to one loaf for every four persons a day. /// Opt /// Members of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (O-S-C-E) delegation that visited the camps in November said they were appalled by what they called the alarming plight of the refugees. Norwegian diplomat Kim Traavik, the delegation leader, said the team saw first-hand evidence of a developing humanitarian crisis. /// Traavik Act /// I said repeatedly, what we have seen leads us to conclude that we are faced with a very serious humanitarian problem. /// End Act // End Opt /// /// SFX of tanks rolling, then under to /// Inside Chechnya, meanwhile, Russian tanks advanced relentlessly toward Grozny from several directions. Standing on the outskirts of the capital, field commander Colonel Sergei Skiba said his troops would move cautiously to try to avoid the heavy loss of life that eroded public support for the last war. /// Skiba Act in Russian, then fade to /// "There are gunmen in there," he says, pointing to houses a few hundred meters away. "But," he adds "we are not attacking because we want to avoid heavy casualties." Eventually, however, they did attack. As they advanced into Grozny, reports from fleeing residents told of homes being looted, troops rampaging through newly captured neighborhoods. Human Rights Watch investigator Peter Bouckaert interviewed dozens of witnesses to an incident in the Grozny suburb of Alkhan-Yurt in which 41 civilians were killed. /// Bouckaert Act /// Some people were killed on December first when soldiers threw a grenade in a basement, and since then, relatively, a large number of people have been killed by looting soldiers. Basically, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time when the soldiers came to loot their homes. /// End Act /// Russia at first vehemently denied reports of the Alkhan-Yurt massacre, calling it disinformation from foreign intelligence services. But later, the Defense Ministry backtracked, saying it was launching an investigation into the incident. The year ended with a series of reports and statements from human rights groups documenting atrocities, and from world capitals criticizing Russia's failure to observe international norms. But despite the massive - some say disproportionate - use of force, many military analysts say Moscow's hopes for a quick and relatively casualty-free victory are unlikely to materialize. Like the last war, federal forces are again mired in a difficult fight against a well-equipped, highly trained and highly motivated indigenous urban guerrilla force. It could be a recipe for another protracted and bloody conflict. But with the war remaining popular - and with Russian generals craving revenge - Kremlin leaders appear to have little choice but to defy their international critics and push on. (Signed) NEB/PFH/GE/JP 28-Dec-1999 13:33 PM EDT (28-Dec-1999 1833 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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