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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kovalyov Asks Rebels, Premier to Defuse Hostage Threat

Combined Reports

Human rights activist and Duma deputy Sergei Kovalyov appealed Tuesday to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to help free captured Russian servicemen in Chechnya, who are facing execution in retaliation for Russian shelling of the Chechen town of Bamut.

"I am appealing to you, Viktor Stepanovich [Chernomyrdin], as the leader of the Russian government, as a courageous and honest person and citizen, with a persistent request to do everything possible to rescue the prisoners of war, even if the shelling of Bamut will have to be stopped to hold urgent talks on the release or exchange of hostages," he said in the letter, forwarded to Interfax.

Ruslan Kharkharoyev, the commander of the Chechen separatists in Bamut, on Monday ordered five out of the 90 Russian servicemen held hostage to be executed after each Russian air strike on the village.

Kovalyov called on Kharkharoyev to repeal his order for retaliatory executions. "The shooting of defenseless prisoners is neither a humane nor a noble act," Kovalyov wrote.

President Boris Yeltsin's Security Council is set to meet in the Kremlin on Thursday or Friday and will probably revise plans for withdrawing more federal troops from Chechnya, presidential press spokesman Sergei Medvedev told a press briefing Tuesday. "There is no need to let the bandits force political decisions," he said.

"Events in Grozny may force some changes to the plan," said Medvedev. Rebels loyal to separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev attacked Grozny on March 6, controlling large sections of the city for several days before federal troops managed to repel them.

"I cannot rule out linking Russian troops reductions and a withdrawal to the progress of peace talks," Medvedev said. "An ill-considered withdrawal could result in genocide of the civilian population."

Medvedev said Yeltsin, who faces a strong challenge from the resurgent communists in June's presidential election, might raise the issue of Chechnya at a summit of world leaders Wednesday in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik.

Medvedev also denied reports that the president was on the verge of firing Defense Minister Pavel Grachev. He said there was "no evidence at all" that Grachev was about to be sacked.

In Grozny, emergency workers ducking rebel sniper fire scrambled Tuesday to restore water and electricity supplies knocked out by Chechen rebels in last week's surprise attack on the capital.

Russian troops continued attempts to pick off the rebel snipers still operating in Grozny, but the separatist fighters defied efforts to drive them out of the city.

At least nine Russian soldiers were killed and another 11 were wounded in Grozny in 15 rebel attacks since Monday, Itar-Tass reported.

A spokesman for the North Caucasian military district told Interfax that 18 army servicemen have been killed, 53 wounded, and about 40 are missing as a result of the clashes in Grozny since March 6.

"We have every reason to say today that about 190 militants have been destroyed in the city, even though according to some sources over 300 militants were killed," the spokesman said.

A top Russian official harshly criticized government forces Monday for allowing the rebels to penetrate the city, but a Russian general praised the troops for repelling the attack.

Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov had accused both Russian troops and Moscow-backed Chechen police of "outrageous negligence" in allowing the attack in the first place and poor coordination in fending it off.

But Lieutenant General Viktor Gafarov, deputy commander of Interior Ministry troops in Chechnya, praised the troops Tuesday, saying they had acted with valor.

"All checkpoints and the military commandant's office retained their combat capability and the servicemen proved real fighters," he said, blaming the rebels' success on poor communications. ()

"Military victories do not bring settlement of the conflict closer, but further fan the escalation of brutality."

Against this turbulent backdrop, Chechen leader Doku Zavgayev told Interfax that the Chechen government and the command of Russia's federal troops are planning to sign a package of peace agreements with seven Chechen districts on Wednesday.

He said the ceremony would bring together delegates from the Itum-Kale, Cheberloi, Sharoi, Galanchoi, Nadterechny, Naurskaya and Shelkovskaya districts.

Zavgayev said a conference of all of Chechnya's ethnic groups would be held in Grozny later this month.

The forum will discuss a wide range of problems, including the political settlement of the conflict in Chechnya and the outlook for restoring the economy.