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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

2 Russians Arrested for Massacre in Chechnya

Two Russian Interior Ministry soldiers were arrested Wednesday for massacring 13 civilians last week in a northern suburb of Grozny, and detained by order of the pro-Moscow Chechen government, NTV Independent Television reported.

The two soldiers are suspected of involvement in an atrocity last Tuesday when a Russian armored personnel carrier shot up three cars carrying Chechen civilians, pursuing the passengers off the road and stabbing them to death and then burning the bodies. The report said the soldiers were traced by the number on their armored vehicle.

The only surviving eyewitness is in hospital, protected by police under the command of the pro-Moscow Chechen government, the report said.

The case falls under the control of Russian Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov and the leader of the pro-Moscow Chechen government, Doku Zavgayev, NTV said. The television station quoted a Zavgayev representative in Chechnya named Aliroyev, apparently referring to Isa Aliroyev, a spokesman for the Moscow-backed Chechen government.

If the reports are confirmed, it would be the first time during the course of the 19-month war that Chechen authorities have detained Russian soldiers Igor Rodionov made his first public comments on the war in Chechnya, describing it as a "bloody wound," Wednesday in an interview broadcast on NTV.

"We have to treat this bloody wound on the body of Russia and in Chechnya itself -- and there is a possibility [to do that]," he said.

Mikhail Gorbachev once described the war in Afghanistan using the same phrase.

Rodionov, who was appointed defense minister last week and ordered by President Boris Yeltsin to reform the army and stamp out corruption, said he would visit Chechnya in the near future.

But any peaceful solution was on the back burner Wednesday as heavy fighting continued to rage in the strategic village of Bamut in western Chechnya which the Russians claimed to have taken earlier this year.

Confirming the grim hopes for peace, Tim Guldimann, head of the Chechnya mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said at a press conference Wednesday his efforts to bring the two warring sides back to the peace table were bogged down by "technical difficulties." The OSCE is supposed to be acting as a mediator between the Kremlin and Chechen rebels.

Guldimann said both the Chechen rebels and the Russian side have indicated a willingness to meet and discuss military aspects of a cease-fire, but efforts so far had failed.

The OSCE has been trying to arrange a meeting of military commanders for a nearly week without success while heavy fighting has continued across the south of the republic.

General Anatoly Kvashnin, commander of the North Caucasus Military District, and his deputy proposed a meeting with Chechen Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov on Wednesday, but Maskhadov said he could not make it at such short notice, Guldimann said.

"Given the present-day conditions, these meetings will be more difficult to organize technically. This has to do with communications and transport, links between them," Guldimann said.

Guldimann said he was convinced that, although the impetus for peace that came from the presidential election campaign was now gone, there were still forces in Moscow who wanted negotiations.

President Boris Yeltsin signed a cease-fire with rebel Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev in the lead-up to the elections as part of a promise to stop the war.

Guldimann admitted, however, that a solution to the conflict was a long way off, since the failure of the peace agreements came down to political issues. "At present we can talk only about immediate steps forward and not about a final solution," he said.

In a sign of his precarious position, Guldimann said he had been forced to come to Moscow to head off demands for his deportation from Chechnya that have been made by Zavgayev.

Guldimann came to Moscow to sort out his own position after Zavgayev accused him of "violating his mandate" and asked him to leave the republic last week.

But Guldimann, who has the rank of ambassador as head of the OSCE's Chechnya mission, said Wednesday both Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Krylov and Sergei Stepashin, secretary to the State Commission on Chechnya, had confirmed their support for his work in Chechnya and told him he should continue.

It is the second time Guldimann has come under attack from Zavgayev, who earlier objected to his constant trips into the southern mountains to talk to rebels leaders. Zavgayev, who last week called the rebel leader Yandarbiyev an "imposter and a scoundrel," has consistently been opposed to Moscow holding peace talks with the rebels.

Zavgayev's latest attacks on the OSCE came after a session of the Russian government's standing Commission on Chechnya, which moved to strengthen Zavgayev's position, disbanding the one-year Moscow administration in Chechnya and leaving Zavgayev's government the sole administrative power recognized by Moscow in the territory.

Lieutenant General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, commander of Russian troops in Chechnya, left on vacation Wednesday, Interfax reported.

Tikhomirov was reported to have been replaced two weeks ago but then returned to Chechnya saying he had decided not to take his vacation. The hardline general then launched the latest round of attacks on villages in southern Chechnya.

Meanwhile, Chechen rebel fighter Salman Raduyev took responsibility for Friday's unsuccessful attempt to bomb a railway station in the regional center of Voronezh.

Raduyev, who led a hostage-taking raid on the Dagestani town of Kizlyar this year, was reported to have been killed in March. But he reappeared last week and claimed responsibility for a spate of trolleybus bombings in Moscow.