Moscow, Jan. 19 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Boris
Yeltsin today said the military operation against Chechen
hostage-takers in the Dagestani village of Pervomayskaya was tragic
Yeltsin said in Moscow at the summit of the Commonwealth of
Independent States (CIS) that the loss of life was a tragedy, but
that the government had "no choice" but to end the standoff.
He said the bodies of 153 Chechen fighters had been found in and
around Pervomayskaya in southern Russia, and 30 gunmen had been
captured. He did not say what happened to the remaining gunmen, who
numbered 320 when they arrived in the village. He said 26 Russian
troops were killed in the assault and nearly 100 wounded.
Yeltsin had earlier said that 82 hostages were freed when Russian
forces stormed the village. He said 18 hostages were still missing,
but "must be presumed alive."
The figures were impossible to confirm independently. Throughout the standoff, Russian authorities have given widely different and often contradictory estimates of the number of gunmen and hostages.
Russian troops today combed the ruins of Pervomayskaya looking for
any remaining hostages or rebels. They have begun questioning freed
hostages and captured gunmen. They said the mopping up operation
could take two days.