Car Explodes in Chechnya, Killing Five
VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia (AP) _ A car exploded after driving over a land mine in the Chechen capital of Grozny on Monday, killing five law enforcement officers and three civilians, officials said.
The blast came as a group of European officials headed to the war-shattered region on a fact-finding trip.
The vehicle exploded after hitting a land mine about 500 feet from Chechnya’s press ministry building, said Alexander Lemeshev, a duty officer at the emergency situations department for Russia’s southern federal district. Five policemen riding in the vehicle were killed, he said.
Three nearby civilians also were killed, an official with the Moscow-appointed civilian administration for Chechnya said on condition of anonymity.
Another official, Uzbek Bashayev, of Chechnya’s Emergencies Ministry, said the five victims in the car were intelligence officers, not police. The land mine was planted under a manhole cover and detonated by remote control, he said.
The blast left a crater about 13 feet in diameter, the Interfax news agency reported. It occurred near the site of an explosion earlier in the day that caused no casualties, Russian news reports said.
The incident occurred as three European Union officials, led by Greek Ambassador to Russia Dimitrios Paraskevopoulos, headed to Chechnya for a three-day visit. Greece currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency.
The three planned to tour a Chechen refugee camp in Ingushetia, a Russian republic bordering Chechnya, on Monday before heading to Grozny under tight security to meet with military leaders and pro-Moscow Chechen officials.
Russian officials are eager to demonstrate that Chechnya is returning to normal following passage of new constitution firmly binding the republic to the Russian Federation. But daily clashes and violence continue.
Over the past 24 hours, Russian artillery shelled several districts of Chechnya, while rebels killed five Russian soldiers and wounded twelve in attacks and ambushes, an official in the Moscow-backed Chechen administration said.
In the Argun district, a clash between Chechen police and rebels left a policeman and a rebel dead and four other policemen wounded, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Russian troops rounded up at least 150 people on suspicion of rebel ties during so-called ``mopping-up″ operations in the capital Grozny and other areas. The operations have been criticized by Chechen civilians and human rights groups, who say they are rife with looting, kidnappings and killings.
On Monday, Chechnya’s military commandant, Lt. Gen. Yevgeny Abrashin, told Interfax that Russian troops plan to close down another five checkpoints in the republic’s northern plains, speeding up the transport of construction materials needed for Chechnya’s restoration.
Also Monday, the presidium of Russia’s Supreme Court upheld a November ruling by the full court that annulled a lower court’s verdict against prominent Chechen rebel commander Lechi Islamov, rejecting an appeal by prosecutors and returning the case back for further investigation, Interfax reported.
In June a regional court in Krasnodar convicted Islamov of organizing an illegal armed group and seizing a hostage and sentenced him to nine years in high-security prison for two of 10 charges filed against him, Interfax said. Islamov was arrested in Chechnya in 2000 and accused by Russian authorities of crimes including murder and kidnapping.
Russian troops pulled out of Chechnya in 1996 following a disastrous 20-month campaign against separatists. The military returned, however, in 1999 after rebel incursions into a neighboring region and after a series of apartment house explosions in Russia blamed on rebels.