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NGO Says 25,000 Russian Soldiers Killed In Chechnya

20 October 2004 -- A respected Russian human rights group said today that some 25,000 Russian troops have died in the two wars Moscow has waged on Chechen separatists in the past decade.

Valentina Melnikova, the head of Russia's Soldiers' Mothers Committee, also told Ekho Moskvy radio that the death toll of Chechen civilians in the wars could reach into the hundreds of thousands.

Statistics on the wars vary according to the source. The military says some 10,000 troops have been killed, but that figure is disputed by rights groups.

Russia pulled out of the Caucasus republic after the first war in 1996, but returned in 1999 and remains mired in what was meant to be a quick antiterrorist operation.