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Russia Criticizes Chechnya Blunder

April 2, 2000

GOISKOYE, Russia (AP) _ Russia’s defense minister on Sunday sharply criticized the military command in Chechnya for an operation that left at least 43 Russian servicemen dead after an ambush by Chechen rebels.

Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, who was observing military maneuvers in Tajikistan, said there will be an inquiry to determine who is to blame for the ambush and to what extent, Interfax news agency reported.

``We are ready to expose these mistakes since if problems and mistakes are not revealed, it will be impossible to eliminate them,″ Interfax quoted him as saying.

He blamed the ``inadequately firm centralized command and a lack of efficiency among officials to cope with duties assigned by the Interior and Defense Ministers″ for the debacle, according to Interfax.

Col. Ilya Lukin, deputy commander of Russian forces in the Vedeno district of Chechnya, told Interfax on Sunday that 37 soldiers from a unit of OMON special troops from an Interior Ministry unit were killed in Thursday’s ambush.

Six soldiers from a regular army unit sent to help them following the attack also died. At least 11 servicemen were still missing Sunday.

The ambush was the latest in a series of attacks that inflicted heavy losses on the Russians, showing their vulnerability to the rebels despite their claims to have defeated the rebels and restored federal control over Chechnya.

The defense minister said federal forces have destroyed all major rebel groups in Chechnya. ``There are no large pockets of resistance left in the republic,″ he said. ``The militants have been scattered in small groups.″

Speaking in an interview on the Itogi weekly news program, Col. Gen. Gennady Troshev, a top commander in Chechnya, said the major error was to have let the OMON unit travel a road that was not fully under Russia control and was without ground and air cover. He also blamed poor reconnaissance for the attack.

Rebel bands are stepping up their campaign to sabotage Russian troops and the number of ambushes on motorized Russian convoys is on the increase, the military command’s press service told ITAR-Tass on Sunday.

There has been no let up in rebel attempts to infiltrate villages in southern Chechnya in order to replenish dwindling food supplies, the press service said.

Russian artillery has been actively bombarding rebel positions overnight and on Sunday around the southern villages of Tsa-Vedeno, Tangi-Chu and Tsentoroy, Interfax reported.

Russia began its latest campaign in late September, and has driven most of the rebels out of the flatlands and into the mountains that make up the republic’s southern third.

Sergeyev said federal forces in Chechnya will change tactics. ``In the plains, we will carry out police operations, while in the mountains we will conduct search and reconnaissance missions,″ he said, according to ITAR-Tass.

Meanwhile, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson visited the Chechen capital, Grozny, on Sunday to investigate reports of human rights abuses in detention camps.

During a 2 1/2-hour visit to Grozny, Robinson visited a hospital, a jail and spoke with residents of the city. However, she did not manage to see everything she wanted before her departure, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

Robinson had been expected to visit the Chernokozovo detention center, where human rights groups say Russians routinely torture prisoners. However, she apparently did not.

Her visit came before a scheduled April 3-4 meeting of the Council of Europe, the continent’s leading human rights watchdog. Delegates will discuss whether to suspend Russia for alleged abuses in Chechnya.

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