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Thursday, 13 January, 2000, 12:48 GMT
Chechens feel Russia's might
Border check
Men are facing tough border checks
By Andrew Harding on the Chechen border

Russia's war in Chechnya was supposed to be over in a matter of weeks. But it has dragged on.

Casualties among Russian troops are on the rise, and Moscow now says all men between the ages of 10 and 60 are being considered potential rebel fighters.

At Russian checkpoints on the Chechen border, men are being blocked from crossing.

At one border post, I saw a crowd of about 200 angry Chechen men, all civilians, who had been able to come and go freely.


A long wait for those on the Ingushetia border?

Now their path was being blocked by Russian soldiers, under orders not to let any adult males under 60 pass through.

Nearby, a 37-year-old woman with two young children was waiting for news of her husband, an engineer. He was now stranded a kilometre down the road on the other side of the checkpoint, unable to cross.

She denounced the new rules.

"The Russians say they are fighting against terrorists but it's ordinary civilians like us who are suffering," she said.

Abuses

Peter Bouchard, of Human Rights Watch, is also alarmed by what Russia calls its new policing tactics, introduced after the Chechen rebels launched a series of spectacular guerrilla raids last weekend.

"Many men are stuck behind rebel lines," Mr Bouchard said. "They're unable to come to safety and many are considering joining the rebels just because they feel they have very little choice."

Many think the Russians are terrorising the population into joining the fighters.


Woman
Many women have husbands or sons still in Chechnya
"We have found abuses during this war - men being beaten at checkpoints or being taunted by soldiers, and many men have felt very afraid to go through checkpoints, " Mr Bouchard says.

"Not all men in Chechnya support this war. This war has been imposed on them both by Russia and by more radical elements within Chechen society."

Mistakes repeated

Comparisons with the last Chechen war of 1994-96 are being made all the time now.

Then too, the Kremlin's forces captured most of the republic but lost the subsequent partisan war against the Chechen rebels.

Eventually the Russian army was forced to make a humiliating withdrawal.


Russian soldiers
Russia: Hoping for a better outcome this time


"The Kremlin is repeating all the mistakes made in the previous war. I don't see any serious differences in military strategy from what we saw four years ago," Vyacheslav Nikonov, one of Russia's leading political analysts, said.

He was not optimistic about the future.

"We see the Russian army occupying the territory and the Chechens infiltrating back and starting guerrilla activities there. So it is absolutely the same scenario and I am afraid that the result might be also the same," Mr Nikonov said.

The Kremlin, however, insists that this time things will be different.

This war may be as savage as the last one but Russia now has more troops on the ground and more determination to finish the job at all costs.

Unlike last time, the Russian public seems to understand and support what the military are doing, at least for the moment.

And yet it is hard to shake off the suspicion that for both sides this is an unwinnable war.

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See also:

10 Jan 00 | Europe
Can Russia win the Chechen war?
11 Jan 00 | Europe
Chechens 'break Grozny siege'
11 Jan 00 | Media reports
Russian TV cooler on Chechnya
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