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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

3 Officers Go on Trial for Army Gaffe

Three army officers go on trial Monday on charges of negligence in the deaths of 22 OMON riot police by friendly fire in Chechnya in March 2000, Izvestia reported Saturday.

The trial in a Moscow regional court will be closed, Izvestia said.

The devastating attack on the OMON servicemen was long blamed on Chechen rebels, but investigators acknowledged last year that the attack was the result of a miscommunication.

The OMON unit from the Moscow region city of Sergiyev Posad had just arrived in Grozny to replace other troops when it came under fire by machine guns and grenades. Twenty-two of the 98-strong unit were killed and 31 were injured in a battle that reportedly lasted four hours.

Top government officials had immediately blamed Chechen rebels for the March 2 attack. The Kremlin's spokesman on Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said at the time that surprise played a key role in the attack by rebels from well-protected firing points and that they were able to flee because their escape route was mined.

A rebel commander even claimed credit for the killings.

However, Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov said in March 2001 that the attack on the nine-truck convoy occurred because local policemen were unaware that the new unit from Sergiyev Posad was arriving.

The convoy was pulling in for the unit's second tour of duty in Chechnya, replacing OMON servicemen from the Moscow region city of Podolsk at the guard post. At least two Podolsk OMON officers also died in the battle.

Ustinov said the Podolsk troops had only been informed about the arrival in Grozny of a column of unidentified armed people in police uniform.

The top officer accused in the case -- Major General Boris Fadeyev, now head of Moscow region's traffic police and then a high official in military command who would have been responsible for security of the police from Sergiyev Posad -- failed to follow proper procedure in arranging the troops' arrival, Ustinov said. "He didn't insure the support of the column by armored units or helicopter and didn't coordinate the route of their movement with headquarters," Ustinov said in a letter published in the press in March.

Fadeyev, who was stationed in the North Ossetian base of Mozdok, was charged with negligence on Jan. 31, 2001, Ustinov said.

The other two officials accused are the former head of the Podolsk unit accused of the shooting, Major Igor Tikhonov, and the former official for the Interior Ministry in the military command in Chechnya, Colonel Mikhail Levchenko.

Tikhonov was to have ensured "the safe passage of federal troops in his zone of responsibilities," according to Ustinov's letter. He was charged with negligence on Jan. 28, 2001. Levchenko, who was responsible for ensuring the safety of Interior Ministry personnel stationed in Chechnya, "didn't fulfill his duties properly [which] led to deaths of people." He was charged Feb. 1, 2001.

Izvestia said it contacted surviving police from Sergiyev Posad and they agreed with the prosecutors' assessment of what happened.

The Prosecutor General's Office confirmed Saturday that the case exists but referred further questions to the regional court. The court could not be reached for comment Saturday.

(AP, MT)