Crack units of Russia’s internal affairs ministry and federal security service yesterday morning launched an assault on Pervomaiskoe village in Dagestan, where an estimated 200 Chechen fighters held some 120 hostages. The hostages were seized the preceding week in Kyzlar, Dagestan. According to reports from Western and Russian correspondents near the village, troops fired indiscriminately on Pervomaiskoe in an attempt to destroy the Chechen fighters, risking the lives of the hostages in the process. The assault received artillery and aviation support from the Russian army. Federal Security Service head Mikhail Barsukov and Internal Affairs Minister Anatoly Kulikov, both in Dagestan, are said to be commanding the operation. The Chechen detachment under Salman Raduyev has vowed to fight to the finish.
As of Tuesday morning, 23 hostages were free, some released by their captors "to tell the true story," others freed as part of a general release of women and children. Still others apparently escaped. There was no word of the fate of the rest of the hostages. The Russian command claims to have killed 100 Chechen fighters and the Chechen side claims to have killed 60 Russian soldiers in 24 hours of fighting. According to announcements by the Russian "power" ministries, the goal of the assault is to free the hostages. However, human rights commissioner and Duma deputy Sergei Kovalev said in a statement that the actual effect may be to kill the hostages along with the captors. (2)
Yeltsin Takes Heat for Assault.