Russian Troops Cordon Off Grozny in Fear of Chechen Offensive

Published August 23rd, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Russian troops cordoned off the Chechen capital Grozny on Thursday to stave off a potential rebel offensive marking the 50th birthday of a Moscow-appointed head of the separatist North Caucasus enclave.  

Federal officials said that vehicles had been banned from entering or leaving Grozny while all traffic inside the shelled-out city itself had also been shut down. 

Heavily-armed Russian troops stepped up identity checks throughout the region, authorities fearing that the rebels would attempt to stage a major attack on the birthday of Chechen administration chief Akhmad Kadyrov. 

A native Chechen, Kadyrov has been a marked man since early in the 22-month war, when the rebels put a bounty on his head for accepting the post as chief of Chechnya's pro-Moscow administration. 

Kadyrov has survived numerous guerrilla assassination attempts, and at one point also came under fire from Russian forces, although federal authorities later dismissed the incident as a case of mistaken identity. 

No large-scale fighting was reported in Grozny early Thursday, although federal authorities reported that a Russian convoy was attacked by grenade-launchers when it was moving into the city overnight. 

One Russian soldier was killed and another wounded in the incident, Interfax reported the military headquarters in Grozny's suburb of Alkhan-Kala as saying. 

Another three soldiers were wounded in a separate exchange of fire, Russian officials said. 

Meanwhile a spokesman for separatist Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov said that one separatist rebel had been killed in skirmishes overnight. 

The spokesman also claimed that two Russian soldiers had died, but no independent confirmation was immediately available. 

In another incident, two Russian helicopters were fired at over Grozny and one of the pilots was wounded, the pro-Russian Chechen police said. 

Inhabitants of the southeastern village of Tserenteroy took to the streets Thursday to denounce the murder of a 17-year-old boy, who they say was killed by Russian soldiers, a Chechen pro-Russian administration official told Interfax.  

The boy had been abducted last week as he was tending cows. 

Federal forces handed his bullet ridden body to his family Tuesday. 

Russian prosecutor for Chechnya Vsevolod Chernov said Thursday the murderer had been arrested, but refused to disclose his identity. 

Chechen guerrillas have stepped up their military activities over the past few days, engaging Russian troops in the southeastern mountainous region as well as in the north, where federal forces first claimed to control the situation after they came back to Chechnya 22 months ago. 

The self-styled "anti-terrorist operation" has claimed the lives of at least 3,000 Russian soldiers, according to official figures, although the toll among civilian and the guerrillas themselves has never been disclosed -- MOSCOW (AFP) 

© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

You may also like