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At Least 47 Chechen Civilians Killed in Weekend Massacre

By Sonni Efron
Los Angeles Times

At least 47 civilians were massacred last weekend by Russian troops who bombed and ravaged the village of Samashki in southwestern Chechnya, leaving behind burned bodies and used syringes, Russian lawmakers and human rights activists said Thursday.

Some reports put the death toll at 250.

The last rebel fighters had left the village two days earlier under pressure from civilians who feared Russian reprisals if the guerrillas were allowed to remain, witnesses said. They said many of the soldiers injected themselves with drugs during the massacre.

The attack on Samashki appears to be part of a systematic Russian attempt to crush any remaining resistance in Chechnya before President Clinton and other world leaders arrive in Moscow for a May 9 summit.

According to witnesses, the killings began Friday, the same day that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, on a pre-summit visit to Moscow, was being assured by Russian Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin that Russia was seeking a peaceful solution to the 4-month-old war in Chechnya.

President Boris N. Yeltsin's embattled human rights adviser, Sergei A. Kovalev, said Western leaders bear some responsibility for events in Chechnya as their consent to visit Moscow next month has been taken by the Kremlin as tacit approval for a scorched-earth policy in the secessionist Muslim republic.

"By May 9, it must be possible to throw up one's hands and say, Yes, all kinds of things happened in Chechnya. Of course, we deeply regret that, but the war is over now,'" Kovalev said.

"The war is not over yet and will not be over in the near future," he said.

As Kovalev spoke, Russian forces were launching an all-out offensive against the village of Bamut, about seven miles from Samashki, the Itar-Tass news agency reported, describing Bamut as the last pocket of separatist resistance in western Chechnya.

The Russian Parliament has generally watched passively as Russia's fighting force in Chechnya swelled to 58,000. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for December, however, and on Thursday lawmakers took action aimed at holding the Kremlin accountable for the war.

The upper house of Parliament voted 97-1, with two abstentions, to ask the Constitutional Court to rule on whether Yeltsin's decision to send troops to Chechnya was legal. Russia's constitution, adopted 16 months ago, says the army may be used only to repel external aggression or take part in international peacekeeping operations, but may not be deployed in internal conflicts.

On Thursday, 38 lawmakers from the Duma, or lower house of Parliament, signed a statement demanding an immediate halt to hostilities in Chechnya.

"We are convinced that if the war is continued, the unpunished barbaric elimination of residents of the village of Samashki may be repeated," the statement said. A day earlier, the Duma passed a bill requiring the withdrawal of all army troops from Chechnya and immediate negotiations with Chechen military commanders, though there is little hope such a law will be obeyed.

Russian officials have said they will not negotiate with rebel President Dzhokar M. Dudayev but would be willing to discuss the terms of surrender with his top field commanders.

On Thursday, Russian Defense Minister Pavel S. Grachev announced that Dudayev had been killed or wounded. A few hours later, Chechen intelligence chief Ruslan Mosayev told Itar-Tass that Dudayev and his entourage had escaped unscathed from a Russian artillery attack on the house where Dudayev had been staying in Serzhen-Yurt in southern Chechnya.

Reports from Samashki have been slow to filter back to Moscow as journalists, Russian lawmakers and the International Red Cross were denied access to the village for days.

The Red Cross, whose representative was allowed in Monday, estimated that at least 250 people in Samashki had been killed.

Russian activists from the human rights group Memorial said they had received unconfirmed reports that Samashki women had been told to dig 211 graves.

Memorial's list of 47 includes only the dead who could be immediately identified. It begins with 17-year-old Khava Gunasheva, slain with her father and burned in a basement, and ends with 70-year-old Abdulkhadzhi Nurtazaliyev, who was fired on by an armored vehicle.