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Chechnya: Separatists Claim Heavy Russian Losses

Moscow, 16 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Chechen separatists today said they had killed 33 Russian soldiers in two days of heavy fighting, but Moscow promptly denied the claim. Chechen spokesman Movladi Dudgov said the Russian troops were killed in the southern Argun gorge, in the capital Grozny, and the town of Urus-Martan. Dudgov also accused the Russian military of killing over 30 civilians yesterday during helicopter rocket attacks in the southern Vedeno gorge. The office of the Kremlin spokesman on Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, denied both claims.

Meanwhile, Russian commanders in Chechnya told Interfax news agency that two Russian soldiers were killed during the last 24 hours.

The Russian government has said that almost 2,600 soldiers have died since its forces began their latest military campaign against Chechen separatists almost a year and a half year ago.

A delegation from the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe continues its tour of Chechnya today to check on the human rights situation there. ITAR-TASS says the delegation -- led by Lord Frank Judd -- is to visit federal troop headquarters in Khankala, Grozny, and a prison.

Yesterday, the delegation questioned Russian-appointed Chechen officials as to why there have been so few cases pursued on alleged massacres of civilians in Chechnya by Russian troops. Russia's top human rights envoy for Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov, promised more prosecutions.

The delegation also visited a cramped refugee camp in Znamenskoye, Chechnya. Judd heard complaints from the people about the deplorable conditions in which they live.

"And I think its very sad that in Europe, still we have people living in tents in the winter with no prospect of early return to their homes. I went into one tent where there were 16 people, two families living, and all the children had measles."

The delegation is preparing a report to present to the assembly later this month when it considers reinstating Russia's voting rights, which Moscow lost last April over its campaign in Chechnya.