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CDI Russia Weekly #202 Contents   Plain Text - Entire Issue

Rebels kill 18 pro-Russians in Chechnya, Putin says war is over
April 19, 2002

Chechen rebels killed 18 pro-Russian police in the deadliest bomb attack the breakaway republic has seen for almost two years, even as Russian President Vladimir Putin said the war is over in Chechnya.

Ten Chechen police officers were killed Thursday when a mine exploded under their transport bus in the republic's capital Grozny while another six died in a follow-up blast triggered as a second vehicle rushed to help, a top pro-Moscow official said.

Two other members of the interior ministry's elite OMON unit died later in hospital from their wounds, the head of Chechnya's pro-Russian administration, Akhmad Kadyrov was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti news agency.

The attack occurred within 200 metres (yards) of the Russian interior ministry's headquarters in Chechnya and only two hours before Putin delivered his annual State of the Nation address to both houses of parliament in Moscow.

It was the most fatal single attack on pro-Russian forces in the North Caucasus since Chechen suicide bombers killed 44 soldiers, and wounded 120 others, in the republic's second city of Gudermes in July 2000.

Yet it coincided with Putin's upbeat statement on nationwide television that Moscow's 30-month war against Islamic separatists in Chechnya was now at an end.

"Regarding Chechnya, the military phase is over thanks to the bravery of army and special task forces," Putin said.

"A year ago we were counting how many there were fighting against us, how many rebels, how many terrorists -- 2,000, 3,000, 5,000, 10,000. Today it's not important to us how many there are, what matters is where they are," he added.

Gantamirov said the attacks could have been "meticulously planned and carried out by the rebels to coincide with President Putin's speech."

Putin, then prime minister, launched Russia's "anti-terrorist" campaign in Chechnya on October 1, 1999, after a series of bomb attacks in Russian cities killed 292 people, sparking a wave of nationalism that ultimately swept Putin to the presidency.

But despite repeated assurances from the Kremlin chief that life in Chechnya was returning to normal, Russian forces have abjectly failed to stop the rebels carrying out daily bomb attacks and guerrilla raids.

The latest attack brought the total of pro-Russian servicemen killed in Chechnya over the past two days to 24, Interfax said Thursday.

More than 3,500 Russian soldiers have been killed in Chechnya since October 1999, according to official figures, although unofficial estimates put the death toll much higher.

The OMON deputy chief in Chechnya, Sultan Satuyev, summed up the frustration of the Russian forces Thursday when he reacted to the carnage by telling NTV television: "You cannot call the people who carried out this attack human. They are subhuman."



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