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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechen: Stored Corpses Spell Disaster

A doctor in Chechnya was quoted as saying Thursday that the decomposing corpses of soldiers stored in broken refrigerated railway wagons in Grozny could trigger an epidemic.

Interfax quoted senior doctor Sultan Chunchayev as saying in Grozny that the wagons, parked near the railway station, were packed with the remains of soldiers killed in the 1994-96 Chechen war and the refrigerators no longer worked.

"A dangerous epidemic could well start in Grozny and spread to other areas," he was quoted as saying, adding that the heat of the summer could encourage the spread of infection unless the corpses were moved.

"The refrigerators do not work and some remains are strewn across nearby ground," Interfax quoted Chunchayev as saying.

Hundreds of bodies of unknown soldiers were stored in refrigerated wagons after the end of the last war in Chechnya, awaiting further efforts to identify them.

Chunchayev said the five wagons had been brought from the southern city of Rostov-on-Don to be identified in a laboratory due to be set up in the Chechen capital.

The military has said that after capturing Grozny in February they discovered several disconnected refrigerator wagons containing the unidentified bodies of Russian soldiers. It was not clear if Chunchayev was speaking about those or other wagons.

Meanwhile in southern Chechnya, scores of bodies, apparently both rebels and civilians, have been exhumed from a mass grave near the village of Tangi-Chu, said an emergency situations official in the pro-Kremlin administration in Chechnya.

Seventy-four bodies had been removed by Thursday and as many as 80 more are believed to still remain, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

About half of the bodies appeared to be those of guerrilla fighters and were dressed in uniforms; the rest appeared to be civilians, the official said.

Russia has been widely criticized by Western governments and human rights organizations for widespread deaths of civilians in the 11-month Chechen offensive. But the official said the civilian bodies bore no marks of violent death and that the cause of death was being investigated. The official also could provide no information on when the people were killed or buried, but said most of those in civilian dress were males.

Federal artillery shelled suspected rebel refuges Thursday in the southern mountains in the Argun and Vedeno gorges and around Itum-Kale near the border with Georgia, the military said.

The military carried out a heavy artillery bombardment in the Grozny suburbs Wednesday, said the government's chief spokesman on Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky. He said artillery units were shooting at a group of 50 guerrilla fighters, but denied the rebels had engaged federal forces directly in combat.

A rebel fighter, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 200 insurgents have entered Grozny to substitute for militants who left the city to rest.

General Valery Manilov, first deputy chief of the General Staff, also said that the insurgents were moving forces into the capital.

"A distinctive feature of the past week was the infiltration by bandits ? into Grozny for the preparation and carrying out of terrorist acts,'' he said.

The military is worried that rebels might stage larger-scale assaults on Aug. 6, when separatists celebrate Chechnya's independence day, Manilov said. But he denied reports that civilians were leaving Grozny in anticipation of street fighting.