Chechens Shell Russia Military Base
URUS-MARTAN, Russia (AP) _ Chechen rebels shelled Russia’s main military base in Chechnya and ambushed checkpoints around the republic Saturday, demonstrating their tenacity despite Russian claims that the militants are verging on defeat.
A senior Chechen commander, meanwhile, reiterated that the rebels would consider peace talks _ but said they had no plans to halt fighting yet.
The Russian military base at Khankala, just outside the barren, bombed-out Chechen capital, Grozny, was hit with rebel shells twice early Saturday, the military command’s press service said. It reported no injuries.
Rebel gunmen attacked military checkpoints and roadblocks in the Vedeno and Nozhai-Yurt districts in southern and eastern Chechnya, the press service said. A police station and military roadblock in Grozny were shot at by unknown gunmen Friday night.
Police stations in the Urus-Martan, Shali and Selsky districts in southern Chechnya were also hit, the ITAR-Tass news agency said.
The attacks came despite Russian claims that federal forces were on the brink of victory after eight months of war. Russian troops swept over the northern lowlands of Chechnya after invading in September, but have been unable to dislodge the rebels from their hide-outs in the southern mountains.
Senior Chechen military commander Mumadi Saidayev, in an interview Saturday in the Shatoi district in the southern mountains, reiterated that the rebels had contacted Russian officials about peace talks.
Moscow has begun to hint it could seek a political solution, amid criticism from abroad and faltering public support at home. But the Russians have shown no sign of scaling back their military offensive.
Neither have the rebels. ``There has been no order to halt military actions,″ Saidayev said.
``We are taking stock of personnel, armaments. We are also changing the communication network,″ he said. ``Throughout Chechnya, preparation to start fighting in small and medium-scale groups is completed. Large-scale operations will be used, but only simultaneously throughout all Chechnya.″
Saidayev said the Russian generals were resisting peace talks because the war has brought them high pay and prestige that the beleaguered Russian military sorely lacked.
A Russian soldier on Chechnya’s western border with the republic of Ingushetia, 19-year-old Dmitry Dubinin, echoed that sentiment Sunday.
``No talks should be conducted with anybody. All soldiers strive for service in Chechnya, even though it’s difficult there,″ he said. Contract soldiers receive about $30 a day to fight in Chechnya, which Dubinin said had attracted a good number of recruits. ``But if talks start, they will stop payments.″
Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the Kremlin’s Chechnya spokesman, said in an interview published Saturday that it would take up to three years to resolve the Chechen crisis. Concerning peace talks, Yastrzhembsky said so far no leader had emerged who could represent the entire Chechen nation.
``There are no partners for dialogue among people who oppose federal forces with arms in their hands. Talks with them can only be about unconditional surrender,″ he told the Russian daily Trud.
Russia sent ground troops into Chechnya following weeks of airstrikes, after Chechnya-based Islamic militants invaded neighboring Dagestan in August. The rebels also are blamed in a series of apartment bombings in Russia that killed about 300 people in September.