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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Troops Sack Grozny's Central Market

GROZNY — The central market in the Chechen capital was in ruins and nearby streets were all but deserted of civilians Wednesday after military vehicles smashed the market stalls into the ground.

Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said the Grozny market, which was destroyed Monday, had become a danger to federal servicemen. An official in the pro-Moscow Chechen administration said 18 soldiers had either disappeared or been killed in the market in November alone.

The market was a key source of scarce food and supplies in the war-shattered city and provided income for thousands of traders.

"I had goods there worth about 40,000 rules ($1,500) — for me that is a lot," said trader Zharadat Agayeva, who was looking through the ruins Tuesday trying to find something to salvage. "I don’t know how I am going to pay my debts."

Rebel attacks have been on the rise, and pro-Moscow Chechen officials had warned that bigger actions were being planned for the Moslem holy month of Ramadan, which began Monday.

Troops sealed off the market Sunday. According to market workers, the soldiers drove people out of the area, but told the traders their food, clothes and other goods would be protected once they were placed in the market storerooms.

"But when I locked everything, they started to shoot the locks off with machine guns. Soldiers rushed inside and pilfered the shelves: sausages, butter, cheese," said Musa Akhmatov, owner of one of the storerooms.

Another storeroom worker, Tarkhan Sultayev, said soldiers "picked whatever they liked and would stash the goods in their bags, they would even undress and put on the new clothes."

On Monday, armored personnel carriers and other military vehicles drove into the sprawling expanse and smashed the rows of makeshift kiosks and stalls. No injuries were reported, although traders said soldiers hit some of them with rifle butts.

The market’s director, Ali Gantamirov, is the brother of Grozny Mayor Bislan Gantamirov, a controversial figure who had been jailed in Russia on charges of siphoning off money for Grozny’s reconstruction after the 1994-96 war.

Bislan Gantamirov was released unexpectedly last year, took charge of a pro-Moscow Chechen militia and has openly feuded with the Kremlin’s top official in Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov.