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Friendly Fire Ruling Overturned

June 5, 2002

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VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia (AP) _ A top court on Wednesday overturned the acquittal of two high-ranking Russian officers charged with negligent homicide in a friendly fire incident between Russian units in Chechnya that left 22 soldiers dead.

Fifty-four other soldiers were wounded during the March 2000 shootout, which the Russian military initially insisted had been an assault by Chechen rebels.

Prosecutors later determined that Russian troops had mistakenly opened fire on a fellow unit _ one of the bloodiest single events of the current Chechen campaign, now in its third year.

Three officers were charged in a rare example of a friendly fire case being prosecuted in Russia. One of the defendants was ruled too ill to stand trial.

In March, a Chechen district court acquitted the other two, Col. Mikhail Levchenko, a former Interior Ministry official in the military command in Chechnya, and Maj. Gen. Boris Fadeyev, a former top official in the Chechnya command who now heads the Moscow region’s traffic police. The court ruled that the evidence did not support the charges.

Chechnya’s Moscow-backed Supreme Court overturned the acquittal and sent the case back to prosecutors Wednesday for further investigation, said Vladimir Rudyak, a spokesman for federal prosecutors.

In the friendly fire incident, a group of riot police were attacked with machine guns and grenades as they entered the Chechen capital, Grozny.

The defendants are accused of failing to follow proper procedures in arranging for the arrival of the riot police.

In acquitting the officers, the lower court said the decision to move the troops to Grozny was taken by the unit’s commander, Dmitry Markelov, who was killed in the shootout.

After a 1994-96 war that left Chechnya with de facto independence, Russian troops returned to the region in 1999 following rebel incursions into a neighboring Russian region and apartment house bombings that killed more than 300 people in Russian cities.

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