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Civilian Massacre Fits Pattern Of Earlier Human Rights Abuse

By Sharon LaFraniere and Daniel Williams
THE WASHINGTON POST -- NAZRAN, Russia

Maliko Labazanov walked up from her cellar on the morning of Feb. 5 feeling more hopeful than she had in many weeks. The Russian soldiers had driven the rebels out of Grozny, the Chechen capital. Her neighborhood of Aldi, on Grozny’s southwestern outskirts, was blessedly quiet. The bombing had stopped.

Labazanov, 49, headed across the street to fry some meat for an elderly neighbor, she recalled recently in an interview. All around her, residents fell into their prewar morning routines. Two men filled a wheelbarrow with flasks and went to fetch water from a spring. Four friends worked to fix a damaged roof. A nurse peeled potatoes. If the war wasn’t over, it had at least taken a breather.

Six hours later, Labazanov returned to the cellar, dragging the bodies of three relatives killed by uniformed Russian officers. Spared herself by a sympathetic soldier who ordered her to play dead so he wouldn’t get in trouble for failing to shoot her, Labazanov hid in the cellar for the next week, separated from the bloody corpses by only a curtain.

The rampage by Russian soldiers in Aldi claimed the lives of more than 45 civilians in a single day in what was apparently the biggest massacre of the nine-month-old war, according to witnesses and human rights investigators.

By afternoon, corpses were scattered throughout Aldi’s streets and the air was crackling with the sound of roof tiles splitting atop burning houses, witnesses said.

Some people were killed before they could say a word, others after they had handed over their last rubles and begged the uniformed marauders for their lives. Residents heard some soldiers joke about whether to use a green antiseptic to mark targets on people’s foreheads.

Even some colleagues of the Interior Ministry riot police known as OMON, suspected of carrying out the killings, seemed appalled at the bloodshed. “Have you gone mad?” one OMON commander was heard yelling into his handset.

The Aldi massacre was the latest and bloodiest example of the mass shooting of civilians. Other Russian tactics include artillery and aerial bombardment of towns and cities and the mass detention of hundreds of Chechens.