- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2000

URUS-MARTAN, Russia Russian soldiers searched a mountainous district of Chechnya Thursday for 27 comrades reported missing after an ambush that again demonstrated the vulnerability of Russian forces in the rebellious republic.
The Red Cross, meanwhile, announced that Russian officials have given the organization access to camps in Chechnya where detainees reportedly have been tortured.
A 49-man unit was attacked Wednesday near the southern village of Zhani-Vedeno, said a top Russian commander, Col. Gen. Alexander Baranov. Four men were reported killed and 18 wounded in the ambush.
"The rebels were waiting for them," said Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the Kremlin's spokesman for Chechnya.
Of the 107 troops in a second convoy that tried to help the first unit, 20 were hospitalized, and the others escaped unharmed, the Interfax news agency reported.
Despite the losses, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo insisted Thursday that Russia was not losing control of the situation in Chechnya.
"The situation in the republic is not simple and requires constant attention and corrections in the federal forces' efforts," he told Interfax. "But it is being fully controlled, including in the southern districts, despite continuing sorties of the surviving rebel formations."
Other Russian commanders have said the rebels could sustain a guerrilla war for some time to come. The 7-month-old war has subjected Russia to foreign criticism over charges of human rights violations.
Russia has rejected the charges, but in an apparent bow to international pressure, President Vladimir Putin Thursday agreed in principle to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to detention facilities in Chechnya, where human rights groups say guards routinely torture detainees.
ICRC President Jacob Kellenberger said, however, that the first observer mission might not be sent to the camps for several weeks.
Russia also agreed to allow the ICRC to begin providing aid within Chechnya. The Red Cross has been providing aid to Ingushetia, the neighboring republic where hundreds of thousands of Chechens have taken refuge.
International aid groups that are active in other war zones have been conspicuously absent from the Chechen war, partly because Russia has restricted their access and partly for fear of kidnappings and other violence that have plagued Chechnya for years.
Russian ground forces that entered Chechnya in late September have driven most rebels out of the flatlands and into the rugged mountains that make up the republic's southern third.
First Deputy Interior Minister Ivan Golubev said troops had blockaded a large group of rebels near Zhani-Vedeno led by one of the Chechens' top commanders, Ruslan Gelayev. Heavy artillery strikes also hit the region where the rebels were believed to be centered.

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