Many Russians killed in Chechnya

Thirteen Russian servicemen were killed in a heavy day of fighting in Chechnya, but government officials continue to insist that separatists are still surrendering under a recent amnesty offer.

    The last 24 hours has witnessed 
    an intensification of resistance

    The casualties came as Chechen fighters attacked Russian positions 20 times over the past 24 hours, said Ibris Yasuyev, an official in the Moscow-appointed administration.

    Near the village of Gikalo, an explosive devise hanging from a tree exploded as a team of sappers drove by. Three men were killed and three seriously wounded, said Yasuyev.

    Separatists also clashed with Russian forces near the village of Bamut, killing one soldier and wounding six. Another clash near Tsa-Vedeno left one separatist dead and one serviceman wounded, added the official.

    Russian forces pounded suspected separatist bases in the Itum-Kale district in an aerial bombardment that lasted several hours. Artillery was used in the Achkhoi-Martan, Kurchaloi and Nozhai-Yurt districts, according to the Grozny administration.

    In the regional capital Grozny, an armored personnel carrier exploded on a land mine on Wednesday, killing two troops and wounding three, and a serviceman was shot dead at the city market, said Yasuyev.

    Amnesty has limited effect

    Meanwhile, officials said some separatists refused to take advantage of an amnesty passed by the Russian parliament earlier this month.

    Fourteen fighters laid down their arms on Thursday in Gudermes, the region's second-biggest city, said Ruslan Yamadayev, a member of Chechnya's temporary legislature.

    Recent surrenders won't effect
    continued resistance for months
    to come

    Yamadayev said those surrenders brought the number of rebels to come forward under the amnesty to 99, according to the Interfax news agency.

    Denis Vyazemtsev, a spokesman for the Federal Security Service in Chechnya, said later on Thursday that 11 separatists had put down their arms in Grozny, according to Interfax.

    Russian officials say the amnesty is a key step on the road to peace in Chechnya. However, critics say there are too many exceptions in the law that make it dangerous to surrender.

    Russian forces have been bogged down in Chechnya since 1999, when they returned to the region following separatist incursions into the neighbouring region of Ingushetia and a series of deadly apartment-house bombings in Russian cities.

    Ingushetia involvment

    Russian troops have begun making incursions into Ingushetia, targeting the thousands of refugees that fled war in Chechnya to camps in the neighboring republic, a Russian rights group said on Thursday.

    "Ingushetia is the only republic in the Russian Caucasus to have given asylum to Chechen refugees, the only place where they feel secure," Alexander Cherkasov of rights group Memorial told journalists.

    Rights groups have accused Russian troops fighting separatists in Chechnya of committing terrible crimes against the breakaway republic's civilian population.

    Some 84,000 Chechen refugees are still living in Ingushetia - despite Russian assertions that many have returned to their homeland following a Kremlin-launched peace plan that declared the drawn-out war over.

    Many fled en masse after a Russian victory in a war that broke out in October 1999.

    Before that, Russian troops had fought a 1994-96 war with Chechen separatists that ended in a Russian retreat and a short-lived independence for the region.


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