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Russia Guards Confess to Murders

August 28, 2002

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VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia (AP) _ Two Russian border guards confessed to killing eight of their comrades to avenge hazing, officials said Wednesday, while President Vladimir Putin called for better discipline and combat-readiness amid a string of deadly incidents.

After leading authorities on a massive manhunt, Privates Nikolai Bozhkov and Oleg Khismatulin confessed to killing the other members of their detachment in the republic of Ingushetia, near Chechnya on Russia’s mountainous border with Georgia, said Alan Doyev, a police spokesman in neighboring North Ossetia.

They were detained late Tuesday near North Ossetia’s capital, Vladikavkaz, Doyev said.

Russian officials had initially said they suspected Chechen rebels in the killings. The privates said they killed their fellow servicemen to avenge hazing, Doyev said. He did not elaborate about the alleged hazing.

``They really got to us,″ Bozhkov said in police custody in comments carried by Russian NTV television. ``Not all of them though, we felt pity for some,″ he added after a short pause.

``Please forgive me,″ Khismatulin said with tears in his eyes when asked by journalists of another station, TVS, what he would like to tell relatives of his victims.

Khismatulin confessed to killing one guard and Bozhkov said he killed the other seven while they were sleeping, Doyev said. After the rampage, the two fled to North Ossetia, carrying their Kalashnikov assault rifles and ammunition. They traded one of the rifles for civilian clothes at one village.

Another police officer in North Ossetia, who asked not to be named, said the pair stopped at a house outside Vladikavkaz. The owner gave them vodka and promised to help them escape from the authorities but instead drove them to the regional border guards’ headquarters outside Vladikavkaz.

Desertions, shootings and murders have plagued the cash-strapped and demoralized Russian armed forces since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Many of the incidents are blamed on vicious hazing of young conscripts by older soldiers, and on alcohol abuse.

NTV reported that Khismatulin had a criminal record for drug-trafficking and that officials believe both he and Bozhkov might have been under the influence of drugs when they killed their comrades.

As details emerged of the killings in southern Russia, Putin urged military officers to crack down on corruption and incompetence in their ranks.

``Criminal negligence, bureaucratic mix-ups and a lack of financial discipline should be punished with all force of the law,″ Putin said in televised comments at a military command headquarters in the Siberian city of Chita.

``It is inadmissible when disregard for an assignment, irresponsibility and sloppiness cause people to die,″ Putin said. He was accompanied on the trip by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.

Putin spoke after the Aug. 19 crash of a Mi-26 military helicopter in Chechnya, which killed 118 servicemen _ the most deaths in any single incident in Russia’s two post-Soviet wars in the breakaway region and the same toll as in the explosion and sinking of the nuclear submarine Kursk in August 2000.

The helicopter, which had been banned from use as a troop transporter in 1997, was carrying 147 people, nearly twice its normal capacity.

On Wednesday, a high-level military official in southern Russia, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the helicopter was hit by two anti-aircraft missiles _ one in the air and the second near the ground.

However, the commission investigating the crash has not announced the results of its probe, and its chief said this week that investigators were still considering the possibility of mechanical failure.

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