- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2002

VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia (AP) A Russian military helicopter exploded in flight and crashed in Chechnya yesterday, killing 14 persons, including five high-ranking Russian officers.
There were conflicting reports about the cause of the crash, with some officials blaming it on a surface-to-air missile fired by separatists and others saying it appeared to have been an accident.
The Mi-8 helicopter of the Russian Interior Ministry went down shortly before it was to land in the village of Shelkovskaya, northwest of the Chechen capital, Grozny, said Yuri Kolodkin, a duty officer at the regional Emergency Situations Ministry.
Everyone on board was killed, including two Interior Ministry generals and three colonels, Mr. Kolodkin said.
"Eyewitnesses said they saw smoke first, then the helicopter caught fire and fell down," Nikolai Britvin, a deputy presidential representative in the region, was quoted as telling Itar-Tass.
An official in the Russian military headquarters in Mozdok said an investigation had been opened, but gave no further information.
In September, a helicopter crash killed two generals and 11 other persons soon after takeoff from Grozny. Russians blamed the crash on a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile, though some witnesses said it looked more like a mechanical malfunction.
Among the officers killed in the crash yesterday were Lt. Gen. Mikhail Rudchenko of the southern federal district of the Interior Ministry and Maj. Gen. Nikolai Goridov, deputy commander in chief of the Russian Interior Forces.
The senior officers, along with bodyguards and other troops, were flying to Shelkovskaya from the military base at Khankala.
Moscow has long claimed to have re-established control over Chechnya, but its troops are killed daily in attacks on their positions and in land-mine explosions.
Six Russian servicemen were killed and six were wounded over the past 24 hours in rebel attacks and mine explosions, an official in the pro-Moscow Chechen administration said yesterday.
Also yesterday, Russian aircraft bombed suspected rebel bases in eastern Chechnya and Russian troops shelled targets in the east and a district near the capital.
About 500 people demonstrated in Grozny to protest Russian operations in which people are detained and interrogated about possible links to rebels. They also demanded starting talks on a peaceful settlement of the war in Chechnya.
Russian soldiers watched the rally, which lasted about two hours, but made no attempt to disperse the demonstrators.

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