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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Parliament Says Stop Bombing of Chechnya

GROZNY, Chechnya -- Russian policy toward Chechnya was in confusion Friday as a parliamentary delegation from Moscow spoke out against bombing raids and the threatened armed intervention against the self-declared North Caucasus republic.

One member of the delegation arrived in the Chechen capital, Grozny, on Thursday to try to bargain for the release of 21 captured Russian soldiers, said the Kremlin's policy of "direct intervention by Russian soldiers" was disastrous.

Liberal deputy Anatoly Shabad called the parliamentary delegation to Grozny "resolute opponents of the policy conducted recently, a policy of attempted armed intervention."

In Moscow, members of the State Duma Defense Committee released the text of a telegram to President Boris Yeltsin on Friday from delegation leader Sergei Yushenkov, asking him to "exert all powers to stop the bombardment of Grozny and other regions of Chechnya".

Russia has said it had nothing to do with the air raids on Grozny over the past few days, but Shabad told reporters Friday there was little doubt that the planes were Russian.

Shabad was scornful of the Russian Defense Ministry, which has disowned the Russian prisoners and called them mercenaries. The men were captured in an assault on Grozny on Saturday led by Chechen opposition forces.

"We members of the delegation have said more than once we are fully convinced that they are Russian army soldiers, maybe given special new uniforms, that's another question. But we are not the Ministry of Defense," he said. "The Ministry of Defense is still denying it, but to my mind the last sense of that denial has been exhausted."

The Chechen side has derived immense propaganda value from the captured soldiers, who it says are proof of Russia's imperial designs.

Shabad said his delegation would stay a couple more days in its attempts to get the prisoners released.

On Thursday night jets again bombed the outskirts of Grozny, but there were no reports of more casualties. Local people and hospital staff put the number of dead from Thursday's daytime raids at least 10, all civilians.

With the arrival of the delegation, tension has eased in Grozny but the situation is still deadlocked. Yeltsin has put off his deadline to the Chechens to lay down their arms till Dec. 15 while Russian troops are massing on the republic's borders.Meanwhile the crowd of pro-independence volunteers at Friday prayers in front of the Presidential palace were whipped into a frenzy of rage by the Russian bombing raids.

They said they expected to use the machine-guns, grenade- launchers and hunting rifles they were carrying before the month was out.

"It looked calm but it's all being put off till later," said Magomet, a Chechen businessman from Moscow who said he had come to Grozny to defend his motherland. "A jihad has begun."

Baudi, another volunteer, said that even if the Russian army took Grozny, the Chechens would fight a partisan war in the hills.

"We are not so stupid as to think we can defend Grozny," he said. "But Grozny is just a normal town. There are one million Chechens and we can fight anywhere".

The Chechen opposition has all but melted away after its failed attempt to seize Grozny last Saturday. The opposition movement is deeply split and may have lost several dozen men during the assault.

Ruslan Labazanov, the notorious 27-year-old Chechen gang leader who led the charge on Grozny, was contemptuous about his supposed opposition allies. Labazanov, who looks every inch the pistol-toting gangster, was holed up Friday in the village of Tolstoy-Yurt. Four T-72 tanks and a white Mercedes are parked in front of his house.

"All politicians are scum," said Labazanov, who has sworn revenge on Dudayev for killing members of his family. He called Umar Avturkhanov, the leader of the Russian-backed Provisional Council, "utter scum" for kow-towing to Moscow.

Labazanov, a passionate supporter of Chechen independence, said he would fight the Russians if they intervened. He said the "only point" on which he agreed with the rest of the opposition was the need to overthrow Dudayev.