Chechens fear risks of leaving -- and staying
Russian army's warning to civilians draws more fire from West
December 8, 1999
KALINOVSKAYA, Russia (CNN) -- While the Russian military has warned residents of the Chechen capital of Grozny to leave by Saturday or be destroyed, some Chechens who have tried to flee the region have come close to meeting that same fate.
"There is no mercy on us. Why?" asked one woman in the town of Kalinovskaya as she stood over a relative who was wounded by a sniper as she attempted to get out of Chechnya.
Another woman's bid to escape ended when shrapnel from a tank hit her arm.
The Russian army, which surrounds Grozny, dropped leaflets on the city Tuesday, warning residents to get out by Saturday, or they will be considered terrorists and killed. As many as 45,000 people remain in Grozny; many are hiding in basements, trying to survive Russian bombings.
Meanwhile, Russia said Wednesday that it had captured the key town of Urus Martan in the separatist North Caucasus province. Eighty rebels were killed in the fighting after Russian troops and paramilitaries entered the town, Russian officials said.
U.N.: Elderly and sick at risk
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson on Wednesday joined a growing chorus of criticism of Russia's tactics. She urged Russia to exercise restraint in Chechnya and called for "greater efforts" to end the fighting there.
Russia's warning to people in Grozny to leave or face a massive attack was "particularly disquieting" and puts the elderly and sick at risk, Robinson said in a statement.
"Russia has legitimate security concerns, but it is not appropriate to respond by violating people's human rights," she said.
The Russians said Chechens could flee the fighting in the territory through a "safe corridor" leading from Grozny into neighboring Dagestan.
'There's no guarantee'
But leaving home is a risk many Chechens are not willing to take, amid widespread fear that the Russians will not keep their word.
"There's no guarantee," said one Chechen man. "They'll give us a corridor, then they'll shoot us on the way out."
Following widespread Western condemnation, Russia denied that any ultimatum had been issued and said the leaflets were merely a warning drafted out of concern for the welfare of civilians still in Grozny.
"There is no ultimatum. There is not going to be any storming of Grozny," said Gen. Viktor Kazantsev, the top Russian commander in Chechnya.
Russian forces entered Chechnya in September following incursions by Chechen-based Islamic militants into Dagestan. Moscow has repeatedly brushed off Western concern about civilian losses.
Western leaders step up criticism
Germany, Russia's largest foreign creditor, regards any release of international loans to Moscow as unlikely while the Chechnya conflict continues to intensify, government sources said on Wednesday.
The sources said Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had sent a message to Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin demanding that the Russian deadline to evacuate Grozny be withdrawn.
Russia's campaign in Chechnya was a main topic of questioning at U.S. President Bill Clinton's news conference on Wednesday. Many analysts say the campaign against the breakaway republic is chilling relations between the United States and Russia.
"There appears to be a policy of indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians" in Chechnya, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said on Tuesday. Clinton warned that Russia would "pay a heavy price" for killing Chechen civilians.
Condemnation is coming from other leaders as well. "What's happening there is unacceptable," said NATO Secretary-General George Robertson. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has suggested that limited sanctions be considered against Russia.
Correspondent Steve Harrigan, and Reuters contributed to this report.
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