Pervomayskaya, Jan. 17 (RFE/RL) - Russian troops have begun launching "Grad" multiple rockets and heavy artillery shells into the Dagestani village of Pervomayskaya, where Chechen separatists had been holding hostages.
A Reuters correspondent on the scene reports seeing four missile salvos being launched within four minutes from truck-mounted multiple rocket launchers. Other western correspondents say low flying helicopter gunships also joined in follow-up attacks.
The grad missiles send out a spray of deadly shrapnel. They are designed for the carpet shelling of wide areas, rather than specific targets. The use of grad missiles signals an end to Russian plans to rescue remaining hostages in Pervomayskaya. Federal Security Service Spokesman Alexander Mikhailov said 28 of about 100 hostages had been rescued.
Just before the missile attacks began, Russian officials told reporters they had evidence all remaining hostages there had been killed by the Chechen gunmen. There has been no independent confirmation of those claims.
A spokesmen for Chechen separatists, Movladi Udugov, told RFE/RL today that the Russian claims were not true. Udugov said many hostages had been wounded in the fighting, but were still alive in trenches with the separatists.
A wounded Russian commando told CNN that the Russians had met fierce resistance in the village center before the missile attacks began, and were having difficult advancing. The soldiers were pulled back as the missile launchers were positioned on the outskirts of the village.