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Lebed Criticizes Pervomayskaya Operation

Eastern Chechnya Jan. 22 (RFE/RL) - Separatist Chechen commander Salman Raduyev said today that his men would release almost 60 civilian hostages seized last week in the southern Russian republic of Dagestan.

Yesterday, a Chechen spokesman told RFE/Rl in a telephone interview that his men were holding just 29 civilian hostages, who would be freed soon. The spokesman said those 29 civilians were hostages seized in Dagestan.

AFP quotes Raduyev, speaking from a secret location in Chechnya, as saying that he is now holding almost 60 civilians from Dagestan who will be freed tomorrow. AFP says its correspondent saw about 50 hostages kept in a cellar controlled by Raduyev in eastern Chechnya.

Chechen leaders also told RFE/RL that Russian military personnel who were captured after a Chechen raid on a Dagestani airbase two weeks ago will be treated as "prisoners of war," and only be released in exchange for Chechen prisoners or the bodies of Chechen fighters.

Meanwhile, in Moscow today, Russian presidential candidate and retired general Aleksandr Lebed today called Russia's military operation in the Dagestani village of Pervomayskoye last week a "national disgrace."

Lebed added his voice to the mounting criticism of last week's assault. The operation was ostencibly launched to free some 100 hostages held by Chechen separatists. But elite Russian troops, who vastly outnumbered and out-gunned the Chechen hostage-takers took four days to fight their way into the village, by which time Chechen leader Salman Raduyev had managed to escape with dozens of hostages.

Lebed ridiculed President Boris Yeltsin's handling of the crisis and questioned the military leadership of the battle. He said: "By American standards, losing 20 percent of the hostages in an operation is considered unsatisfactory. By Israeli standards, the loss of one hostage in an operation is considered unsatisfactory. It is interesting -- what standards operate here?"