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Amnesty: All Sides In Chechnya Must Respect Rules Of War

London, July 11 (RFE/RL) -- Amnesty International has called on both parties in the Chechen conflict to respect the rules of law following renewed attacks on Chechen civilians and a threat to execute Russian soldiers.

The London-based human rights movement said in a statement yesterday: "We fear civilians are dying because of indiscrimate Russian military action to root out Chechen resistance."

It said: "This random killing of civilians cannot be tolerated under any circumstances. There is no excuse, however, for Chechen fighters to execute Russian soldiers held captive."

The statement said: "At least 20 civilians were reportedly killed today when Russian warplanes and artillery attacked the village of Makhety in the southern part of the Chechen Republic."

Amnesty said clashes yesterday in the village of Gekhi were "the fierecest since a fragile ceasefire came into force last month". It quoted reports saying the village had been sealed off by Russian troops and that aircraft and helicopter gunships were circling overhead.

A number of civilians were said to have been killed and wounded. Amnesty fears that civilians in Gekhi and Makhety may be coming under indiscriminate fire from Russian forces in attacks similar to those launched against Shali, Sernovodsk and Samashki earlier this year.

The Amnesty statement quoted Chechen spokesman Movladi Udugov as saying that separatist fighters would execute all Russian soldiers held by them if the Russian troops carried out any provocative actions against civilians and renewed warfare.

The statement said this was in response to an earlier threat by Russia's military chief in the region to "take appropriate steps for destroying the bandits and terrorists" unless all prisoners of war were handed over.

Amnesty said it is not clear how many Russian soldiers are in separatist hands but Russian officials have said dozens are being held. Both sides are believed to hold more than 1,000 prisoners between them.

The Amnesty statement said that international humanitarian law prohibits direct or indiscriminate attacks on civilians and the summary execution of prisoners.