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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

6 Soldiers Held in Probe Of Mop-Up Operation

Six servicemen have been detained for alleged crimes against civilians during troop searches for rebels in Chechnya earlier this month, Kremlin officials said Thursday.

Citing Chechen prosecutor Viktor Dakhnov, an aide to Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said the soldiers were being investigated in connection with charges of abduction, robbery and abuse of authority.

Chechen civilians, human rights groups and officials from Chechnya's pro-Russian administration accused federal soldiers of beating and robbing civilians as they went on a rampage while combing three villages for rebels earlier this month.

All males between the ages of 15 and 50 in the villages of Assinovskaya, Sernovodsk and Kurchaloi were rounded up and forced to kneel for hours, and some of them accused the troops of torturing and humiliating them.

The human rights commissioner for Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov, said Thursday that his office had received about 200 letters from villagers protesting the troops' behavior, Interfax reported.

Dakhnov said that the investigation should put soldiers on notice that they must behave within the framework of the law.

But he said several dozen witnesses who had given testimony later withdrew it, saying their statements had been written by someone else or were written under pressure.

He also said that "excessively cruel acts by the military could have been provoked in part by certain actions of local residents," according to Yastrzhembsky's office.

"Did you know that the fighters have killed 40 district heads and imams — old people? Why don't you ask me about that? Why don't you ask me how we are fighting those criminals?"

An Mi-8 military transport helicopter crashed Thursday in Chechnya, Interfax reported, citing Defense Ministry officials.

There were conflicting reports on whether anyone was killed. The Mi-8 went down around 1 p.m. near Engenoi, Interfax said.