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Chechnya: President Says War Will Continue

The Russian military has raised flags over the Chechen capital of Grozny and is reporting that many Chechen fighters were killed fleeing the capital. But Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, in an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, says there is no end in sight to the hostilities with Russia.

Moscow, 7 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov tells RFE/RL that Grozny held no strategic value for the rebels and that they will now switch to a strategy of partisan warfare.

In an interview with RFE/RL Sunday, Maskhadov said the casualty rate on both sides is higher in this war than in the previous one -- but that this increased savagery will only make it last longer. He said Chechen ranks are being replenished by ordinary Chechens, motivated both by a longing for revenge for fallen friends and by a distrust of the Russian government, which he said has promised amnesty for Chechen men but then thrown them into filtration camps.

Maskhadov said that those broken Russian promises have ensured that there will never be a mass surrender of Chechen fighters.

"Not only for Chechen fighters but also for an ordinary person who doesn't take any part in the war -- [they know] what it means to become a prisoner, what a filtration camp is. We heard, we saw during the previous war. And [because of that] not one fighter would decide to give himself up even if he wanted to. And those [missing fighters], who were probably gravely injured while they were trying to leave Grozny, may have been made prisoners. I don't envy a Chechen who ends up in a filtration point, or ends up missing like those 1,500 we're still looking for."

The Chechen president said that what he called Russian "barbarism" in the Russian-occupied zone is motivating new recruits.

"We cannot give an exact number of the number of fighters. If there are up to 10,000 in position right now, the reserve can count up to 20,000. For example, [see] what happened in Bochay-Yurt. It was announced that the Duma voted an amnesty, and some of our short-sighted fighters decided to wait out [the war] at home. But they were caught and sent to filtration camps. There has been an enormous demonstration going on in Bochay-Yurt for a week already. The people are out on the streets, demonstrating against the [Russian] military commandant's office, whoever. That is [our] reserve. And then it just continues like the last war, it is becoming a long partisan war, where every Chechen considers it to be his duty to kill one Russian soldier."

The Russian government has said the fight in Chechnya is being funded and fought largely by foreign influences. But Maskhadov says the number of mercenaries fighting with the Chechens has been highly overstated -- both for the previous and the present war.

"I'll tell you frankly about the previous war. There were Lithuanians, two or three people. One Pole, I think. Around 12 Ukrainians. About 80 Arabs. Kabardinians -- five, six. Many Ingush. During this operation it's the same -- a few dozens. The rest is lies and politics."

Maskhadov said the current casualty rate is much higher than during the previous war.

"If we compare the present war with the previous one for the same period -- five months, six months, the harshness of the military operations, the strained atmosphere, the casualties on both sides are about ten times higher than during the previous one. So in numbers, that's 7,000 or 8,000 for the Russian side. On our side, 1,500 to 2,000."

Maskhadov said that 2,000 Chechen fighters withdrew through a corridor out of Grozny and escaped into the mountains last week. He denied the Russian reports that thousands of Chechen fighters were killed by landmines, lured by false information to a supposedly safe corridor out of the city.

But he said his men did suffer heavy losses during the retreat. He said two important field commanders had been killed and a third, Shamil Basayev, gravely wounded. Yesterday, Russian television aired footage of a wounded Basayev having his foot amputated.