Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Chechen Refugees Trapped at Border ; Russian Troops Continued Their Border Blockade Yesterday, Keepingthousands from Fleeing

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Chechen Refugees Trapped at Border ; Russian Troops Continued Their Border Blockade Yesterday, Keepingthousands from Fleeing

Article excerpt

Khava Atsayeva and her son fled their home in the Chechen capital of Grozny after Russian missiles hit an open-air market and killed more than 100 people on Oct. 21. They waited a week without food or water to cross the border here, she says, finally slipping over by paying 3,000 rubles (about $114) to a Russian officer.

These are just two more of some 200,000 refugees who have fled into neighboring Ingushetia with just the clothes on their backs.

As Mrs. Atsayeva speaks, a russian jet roars overhead, firing rockets into Chechnya, followed a few seconds later by the thump of several loud explosions. Refugees say the target was the rebel-held town of Chernovodsk just five miles down the road.

Russia invaded the mainly Muslim territory last month to stamp out terrorists it accuses of masterminding apartment bombings in Moscow. Caught in the cross-fire, masses of civilians have fled, many more have been blocked from leaving, and hundreds have been killed.

But despite increasing international pressure to allow civilians to flee the fighting, Russian forces have sealed the checkpoint for the past week. They say they are preventing rebel Chechen fighters from infiltrating Russian-held ingushetia.

But the scope of the humanitarian crisis is becoming grave, say refugees and aid organizations. Thousands of refugees are backed up along nine miles of the road to the checkpoint, waiting to travel into Ingushetia, say those who made it through. Refugees already fleeing there have nearly doubled the population of that tiny republic of only 300,000.

The West tries to help

The Western community is urging Russia to pursue a political settlement rather than its military bombardment of the territory. But the West basically recognizes Russia's territorial integrity - its right to protect its people from terrorists.

On Tuesday, President Clinton met in Oslo with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The president reportedly urged him to halt Russia's assault on Chechnya.

But Mr. Putin shrugged the suggestion off after the meeting. "After all," he said, "it's an internal Russian matter."

He did, however, say that Russia would allow the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to send a humanitarian mission next week to Ingushetia, Dagestan, and some places in northern Chechnya. A United Nations mission is also expected in the region next week.

A tiny trickle of Chechen refugees seeped through the checkpoint on Tuesday. They say that tens of thousands of their fellows are trapped without food or water in a no man's land between this border and Grozny, some 30 miles from here. They also charge that Russian troops have used them as human shields to pave the way for their advancement into the territory.

"The Russians say they are fighting terrorists, but they are the only terrorists I've ever seen," says Liza Nagalayeva, a young schoolteacher from the town of Kulari, about 18 miles inside Chechnya. …

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