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Military cover up senior officer's death after Argun battle

TVS image

: Kseniya Solyanskaya  TVS image

Russian forces and pro-Moscow police were not attacked by rebels in Argun; quite the opposite, it was the rebels who were ambushed, according to the representative of the federal headquarters in the North Caucasus Ilya Shabalkin. As a result of this pre-planned operation, eight federal servicemen were killed, including deputy military commandant for Chechnya Avud Yusupov.

Official representative for the regional operative headquarters of the counter-terrorist operation in the North Caucasus Colonel Shabalkin has finally given the official version of events in the Chechen town of Argun on Friday. He said that law enforcers, supported by the federal military conducted an operation to locate a local extremist cell Wahhabi jamaat. The operation was a success in that the rebel commanders were found.

''After their location was exposed we started operations to detain them. At about 17-00, the rebels started firing at all moving targets, including civilian cars,'' Shabalkin said. To avoid casualties among the civilian population, they were pushed out into an unpopulated area in the towns outlying districts, between Argun and Mesker-Yurt where half-destroyed industrial facilities are located. After that, artillery strikes were delivered on the area. Shabalkin claimed that the majority of the gang was destroyed. He also noted that representatives of the military prosecutors office followed the troops and observed the legality of their actions.

Shabalkin noted that the Argun jamaat united the remaining fighters of Movsar Barayevs gang the same gang that organised the Nord-Ost hostage taking in Moscow. The press service of the joint group of forces has reported the detention of two active members of illegal armed formations charged with extortion, racketeering and recruiting young Chechens into rebel gangs. Pistols, sawn-off shotguns and 800 grams of TNT were seized from the two men.

However, Shabalkins version of the recent developments in Argun raised serious doubts. Firstly, Colonel Shabalkin has a habit of giving information that is never confirmed. Secondly, his words contradicted a report by the deputy commander of the joint group of forces Nikolai Berzeitis, who is senior to Shabalkin both in his post and military rank. Berzeitis said, ''A unit of Chechen police that was conducting a special operation together with the federal forces were ambushed by the rebels. As a result of the attack, three policemen were wounded and one of them died later. Additional units of federal forces were drawn to the place of the special operation.''

There are also other versions. The Interfax-AVN news agency has quoted the head of Argun administration Kerim Kuchigov as saying that the fighting in Argun started at about 16-00 on Friday on Melnichnaya Street where the rebels ambushed deputy military commandant of Chechnya Avud Yusupov. Yusupov was killed on the spot. The commander of a rifle company from Vedena and a soldier were also killed. A married couple of the towns civilian population also fell victim to the attack. One policeman and two people from Akhmad Kadyrovs security guard were also badly wounded.

Guchigov said that units of the Chechen special purpose OMON police force arrived at the site immediately, closely followed by Chechen Interior Minister Alu Alkhanov and representatives of the command of the Russian Interior Ministrys troops. Measures were taken to trap the rebel fighters. Two servicemen of the Argun police were killed and two more were wounded in that operation, Guchigov reported.

Thus, a different version of the events begins to take shape: the rebels ambushing deputy military commandant Yusupov in Chechnyas third-largest town. After coming under attack his group apparently called for help and units of the military and Chechen police rushed to Argun from nearby bases, in particular, from Grozny. A firefight then ensued, dragging on late into the night.

However, no one from federal headquarters has yet said a word about Yusupov. Nobody has refuted the reports about his death, but nobody has confirmed them either, as this would cast doubt over the version Shabalkin and other representatives of the military are trying to present. Most likely, the rebels had planned to kill Yusupov, and suffered casualties themselves.

The Chechen Prime Minister Anatoly Popov has said that the group of rebels who carried out the Argun attack consisted of about 25 people and that the federals killed 8 of them. The republics prosecutor, Vladimir Kravchenko, believes that the rebel group was about 30 strong, and that most of them managed to avoid the federals by either hiding in the town or fleeing into the mountains.

The death toll among the pro-Moscow side and civilians in Argun during Fridays fighting has reached 8, with 13 people injured. The operation in Argun is continuing and a search for the rebels is under way in neighbouring Mesker-Yurt as well.

09 14:02


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