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|Russia Launches Attacks in Chechnya|
|01/12/02 at 14:41:21|
Russia Launches Attacks in Chechnya
By YURI BAGROV, Associated Press Writer
VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia (AP) - Russia sent bombers and helicopters in aerial assaults against rebels in Chechnya (news - web sites), pressing a campaign that has drawn renewed U.S. allegations of rights violations - and a sharp Kremlin retort to the American claims.
An official in Chechnya's Moscow-backed administration said Saturday that Russian aircraft bombed two areas in the breakaway republic over the previous 24 hours, while helicopters struck another region and artillery was used elsewhere.
Five Russian soldiers and police officers were killed and five wounded in fighting or land-mine explosions, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said more than 100 suspected rebels were detained in security sweeps.
The official spoke two days after Russian troops lifted a blockade of Chechnya's third-largest city, Argun, following a roundup of suspected rebels that prompted clashes and protests by residents who claimed they were abused by Russian troops.
In Washington on Thursday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, ``The latest information on Russian operations in Chechnya indicates a continuation of human rights violations and the use of overwhelming force against civilian targets.''
He also said Moscow had failed to pursue contacts with Chechen separatists to reach a peaceful settlement to the conflict.
In a Kremlin information office statement carried by the ITAR-Tass news agency late Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites)'s administration rejected Boucher's remarks and said it regretted the tone of his statement.
The ITAR-Tass report also quoted the chief prosecutor and the prime minister in the Moscow-backed government of Chechnya as saying no human rights abuses occurred during the Russian operations in Argun.
As it has since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, Russia equated its campaign in Chechnya with the U.S.-led war against terrorism.
``Our experience in Chechnya and America's experience in Afghanistan (news - web sites) show how hard it is sometimes to reach terrorists and to prevent any harm on civilians. Nevertheless, that is the goal of Russia and the United States,'' the Kremlin said, according to ITAR-Tass.
``Our experience in Chechnya and America's experience in Afghanistan show how hard it is sometimes to reach terrorists and to prevent any harm on civilians. Nevertheless, that is the goal of Russia and the United States,'' the Kremlin said, according to ITAR-Tass.
Putin threw his country behind the United States in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, improving U.S.-Russian relations and softening U.S. criticism of Russia's war in Chechnya.
However, while U.S. officials said U.S. officials said they agreed with longtime Kremlin claims that some rebels in Chechnya had ties to Osama bin Laden (news - web sites)'s al-Qaida network, they continued to call for peace negotiations and investigations into alleged human rights abuses.
Boucher's statement was among the harshest U.S. criticism of the war since Sept. 11 and came amid persistent disagreements between Russia and the United States over nuclear disarmament and U.S. plans for a missile defense shield.
Russia withdrew its forces from Chechnya in 1996 after a 20-month war that left the separatists in charge. Federal troops returned in 1999 after rebel incursions into a neighboring region and after bombings that Russian officials blamed on rebels killed more than 300 people in Russia.
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