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Chechnya: Civilian Casualties in Urus-Martan and Novy Sharoi

A Human Rights Watch research team in Ingushetia has been gathering evidence of civilian casualties in the central and western portions of Chechnya.

Five displaced Chechens from Urus-Martan, a town located fifteen miles south of Grozny, said that Russian warplanes and missiles had been striking the town since early October. Human Rights Watch previously reported twenty-seven Urus-Martan deaths on October 3, following an attack by ten Russian warplanes. Since then, according to forty-six-year-old Apti Zakayev, Russian warplanes and missiles have hit portions of the town every day at approximately 3:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 1:00 p.m. Zura, a fifty-year-old woman interviewed as she crossed the Chechen-Ingush border, said the town was shelled as recently as last Wednesday morning. On Tuesday (Nov 2), she said, Russian air-to-surface missiles killed three persons, including two young women and an elderly man. Witnesses report that Chechen fighters are deployed in the eastern portions of Urus-Martan, but say the Russian fire is hitting both civilian and rebel areas.

On the evening of October 19, forty-year-old Leyla Zakayeva took advantage of a lull in the shelling to check on the fate of relatives. Several streets were particularly hard hit, including Aslambek Sharipov Street, Pervomayskaya, Bolnichnaya, Chernyekhova, Dostoevskogo, and Trudovaya streets. The six streets are part of a residential neighborhood, located some three kilometers to the southeast of the town center. "Some of the streets had huge craters where shells and missiles had hit," recalled forty-six-year-old Apti Zakayev. Leyla said that dead bodies were lying along the streets, and that her family members were "searching for body fragments in the trees and on nearby rooftops." Another witness said that Lenin and Titov streets, both located in the center of town, were "totally destroyed."

At 11:00 p.m. a shell hit near Leyla Zakayeva's house on Aslambek Sharipov Street. Zakayeva and her children hastened to take shelter in the basement, but a direct hit killed her husband, fifty-year-old Ibrahim Umalatov, only yards away from the shelter. Zakayeva was wounded by shrapnel in her left buttock and upper left thigh while two neighboring homes, owned by Saidalim Umalatov and his brother, were also destroyed in the blast. Saidalim's left arm was torn off by the impact.

One thirty-five-year-old woman from Urus-Martan said Thursday that there were Chechen fighters in different areas of the town, including rebel posts in the poultry farm and in what used to be a children's dormitory. Last week, Human Rights Watch cited a witness reporting the presence of hundreds of rebel fighters in a compound on the eastern edge of the town in early October. Although some of the Russian fire has been focused on the eastern side, civilians were being hit throughout the town.

According to three witnesses, Russian shells began striking Novyi Sharoi on October 23, killing at least nine persons and wounding another ten. In peacetime, some 300 people live in this tiny hamlet, located 18 miles east of Grozny; that figure had swelled by late October by several hundred. The witnesses said there had been no Chechen fighters in Novyi Sharoi since the beginning of hostilities, and that people from the surrounding areas had therefore sought refuge there. "No one thought that Novyi Sharoi would be shelled, because we have never had fighters here," said thirty-six-year-old Zalman Achiyeva.

On October 23, however, Russian shells struck Novyi Sharoi, hitting homes throughout the village. The Isayev residence suffered a direct hit, killing four--including both adult Isayevs and their two teenage daughters. Zalman Achiyeva's thirty-six-year-old husband, Vakhid, was badly wounded while standing in front of the village mosque. He lost both feet and his right eye, and suffered multiple fractures to the right shin. The Achiyevs waited in a basement in Novyi Sharoi until October 29, when a lull in the shelling allowed them to flee toward the Ingush border. Both Achiyevs were interviewed last week in the Ingushetia Republic Hospital.

Twenty-eight-year-old Satsita Abdullayeva told Human Rights Watch that she had fled to Novyi Sharoi from Samashki village on October 28, along with dozens of other Samashki residents. Novyi Sharoi was heavily shelled that day, killing a ten-year-old girl and a woman. Abdullayeva said that the victims were killed when their shelter, an underground grain storage facility, suffered five direct hits. A third man, twenty-year-old Rustam, was killed hours later when a shell hit the hamlet's mosque. "Many refugees from Samashki and other places are hiding in the basements," Abdullayeva said. "And they are afraid to risk leaving their shelters." Abdullayeva was hit by shrapnel in her back and leg during an earlier attack on Samashki.

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