- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2000

GUDERMES, Russia Russian troops rounded up suspects in a succession of suicide truck-bombings in Chechnya and threatened yesterday to fire without warning on violators of a new curfew, as wounded soldiers recounted the deadly week end attacks.

"I was watching television with the guys. It's the last thing I remember. I regained consciousness when the guys were digging me out of the ground," Lt. Vladimir Volodin said yesterday. He suffered a broken leg and a chest injury, and was scarred by shrapnel wounds.

Lt. Volodin was recovering in a hospital in the city of Vladikavkaz, just west of the Chechen border, after the Sunday night bombing near his barracks in the central Chechen town of Argun.

The blast, which killed 26 soldiers, was one of five suicide truck bombings aimed at Russian forces in Chechnya that night the Russians' biggest setback in months. The organized attack underscored the difficulty Russia is having in defeating the rebels, despite far more troops and firepower.

The head of the Federal Security Service, the main successor to the KGB, yesterday blamed lax military commanders for failing to prevent the bombings despite intelligence warnings.

The blasts "are the failures of the commanders who are in charge there," Nikolai Patrushev was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

Russian troops searched several Chechen towns and cities for suspected rebels yesterday. Police detained 46 persons in the southwestern town of Urus-Martan, site of one of the blasts, and a dozen elsewhere, military officials said.

Lt. Volodin, the wounded officer, said fighting was raging as he regained consciousness, and it took two hours before he was extracted from the rubble.

Another soldier injured in Argun said that despite shrapnel wounds and a broken pelvis, he managed to return rebel fire after the blast.

"After the explosion, I managed to get out of the debris on my own," said Lt. Sergei Yefremenko. "Fighting was in progress. I rushed to my platoon's location, unaware of the pain, snatched a machine gun and began firing."

He said rebels opened fire with grenade launchers after the blast. Lt. Yefremenko said he passed out from the pain after he started shooting and didn't see the end of the battle.

Col. Gen. Valery Manilov, first deputy chief of the Russian general staff, said the official military toll from the bombings yesterday was 33 soldiers killed, 84 wounded, and six missing.

At least 11 civilians were killed, according to the Emergency Situations Ministry. And no fewer than six rebels died when the trucks blew up.

Russian forces imposed a curfew in Chechnya yesterday and threatened to fire without warning on any vehicle that violated it. Security was also tightened in Moscow.

Russian aircraft and artillery yesterday bombarded the Argun and Vedeno gorges, which are key rebel refuges, and the southern regions of Itum-Kale and Shali.

Russian troops were driven out of Chechnya in a 1994-96 war. They returned in September, after Islamic militants raided several villages in the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan, and after about 300 people died in a series of apartment bombings the government blames on Chechens.

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