With President Boris Yeltsin set to travel today to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) summit in Istanbul, Russia continued its military campaign in Chechnya, despite the likelihood that Western leaders will press the Russian head of state for a cessation of that campaign and the start of negotiations. Russian artillery yesterday shelled villages adjacent to Djohar, the Chechen capital, and continued its intense bombardment of the town of Urus-Martan (Reuters, November 16). Military spokesmen today said that federal aviation, including bombers, attack aircraft and helicopter gunships, carried out twenty-eight combat missions against rebel strongholds in Urus-Martan and other towns and villages. They claimed that federal troops yesterday established control over the village of Novy Sharoi and had reached the outskirts of the town of Achkoi-Martan, reportedly a stronghold of Islamist rebels. The military also reported that rebel forces have been infiltrating towns and villages already under federal control, and that rebel forces attacked federal forces in various areas, including Urus-Martan and the region west of the Chechen capital. The Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations reported that more than 42,000 Chechen refugees have entered the neighboring republic of Ingushetia since November 1, and that more than 17,000 have returned to Chechnya during the same period. Chechen officials claim that 4,000 civilians have been killed since the military campaign got underway in September (Russian agencies, November 16-17).
The human rights group Amnesty International yesterday charged that, despite the insistence by Russian government and military officials that they are aiming their attacks against rebel fighters, not civilians, many of the attacks might actually be “premeditated strikes against the civilian population of Chechnya.” The World Council of Churches, meanwhile, sent a letter yesterday to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksy II condemning “the disproportionate and irresponsible use of force employed by Russian military forces” in Chechnya. For his part, Aleksy denounced criticism of the military campaign as support for the Chechen rebels, whom he blamed for the apartment building bombings in Russian cities which killed some 300 people and were the proximate cause for Moscow’s resort to force (AP, Russian agencies, November 16).
BEREZOVSKY CHECHNYA PEACE PLAN FOR WHAT PURPOSE?