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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Atrocity Charges Mount in Chechnya

GROZNY -- Chechen villagers discovered the disfigured corpses of three civilians on Wednesday, further escalating tension in the breakaway republic, officials said.

The corpses were found in the village of Katyr-Yurt, about 28 kilometers southwest of Grozny, according to Ruslan Martagov, spokesman for the Russian-backed Chechen government.

Residents blamed the deaths on Russian troops and said federal military vehicles had been seen in the area where the bodies were found, Martagov told Interfax. It was not clear when the killings took place.

The discovery of the bodies came a day after outraged Chechens, shouting and crying, blocked a road into their capital Grozny to protest the killing of 13 people they said were slain by Russian troops. Both the Russian government and separatist rebels accused the other of committing the atrocity.

But the pro-Moscow Chechen government also angrily blamed Russians after talking to eyewitnesses -- a reaction that appeared to lend credence to claims that federal troops were responsible.

Chechnya's Vice Prime Minister Abdullah Bugayev quoted witnesses as saying the victims were gunned down by Russian troops in armored personnel carriers Monday night in the outskirts of Grozny.

The Russian attacks in the countryside have also sparked a growing defiance among the civilian population of the breakaway region.

"Why don't they leave us in peace," said Alikhan Khamburayev, whose home in the village of Salazhi, 40 kilometers east of Grozny, was destroyed along with several others in a Russian helicopter attack Tuesday.

The rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov, who contacted Reuters in Moscow by telephone from an undisclosed location in Chechnya, said that apart from Salazhi several other villages in the area had come under Russian artillery and air attacks since Tuesday.

He said two people had been killed and more than 10 injured when Russian planes hit a hospital in the village of Benoi, some 60 kilometers southeast of Grozny.

Chechnya has been hit by renewed fighting after nearly seven weeks of a shaky cease-fire.

Rebel commanders have said Russian attacks were unprovoked and blamed Moscow for ruining a truce agreed by President Boris Yeltsin and the rebel leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev.

The truce and a promise of troop withdrawal helped Yeltsin in his recent re-election campaign. Fighting in Chechnya restarted days after Yeltsin won a second term in the Kremlin on July 3.

The fighting, among other things, appears to have further damaged faith among local residents in Moscow's ability to keep its promises.

A bearded fighter at a separatist checkpoint near the village of Kurchaloi, east of Grozny, said he did not believe the Russians would withdraw voluntarily from the mainly Moslem region.

"The only way is to give up Islam, drink vodka and then the Russians will leave us alone," he said. (AP, Reuters)