Russian troops, anxious to crush the final resistance in the capital of breakaway Chechnya, are rounding up Chechen men of fighting age in villages near Grozny.
Allegations of atrocities came from both sides Friday in what appeared to be the final days in the battle for the ruined city.
Much of Grozny has been blasted by Russian artillery, rockets, mortars and missiles, and the city’s defenders have been driven into its southern neighborhoods.
Thousands of people have been killed in the brutal Russian assault that began New Year’s Eve, and most of Grozny’s 400,000 residents have fled.
Chechen fighters said they were counterattacking, but artillery shells rained down Friday upon southern Grozny, flattening the little street market where until two days ago the city’s last residents had gathered. More civilians were sent running for their lives.
Villages and bridges to the south of Grozny are now becoming Russian targets as well, for many fighters commute to Grozny from those villages.
Many other people, however, are simply struggling to get on with their lives in the face of a crippling war.
Officials in Chechnya and neighboring Ingushetia were irate Friday about a wave of arrests by Russians.
“The Russians think all men here are fighters,” said Magomet Batayer, head of local administration in the Sunzha district south of Grozny.
“Many people fleeing Grozny - refugees - have been arrested at checkpoints,” she said.
“Nobody knows what happened to them.”
At a news conference in Moscow, elite Russian commando officers, wearing balaclava masks to conceal their identities, accused the Chechens of using women and children as shields while shooting Russians in the back.
Russian commando teams in black ski masks are now moving from checkpoint to checkpoint, sometimes swooping away with prisoners in helicopters.
In at least one village near Grozny, they carried out house-to-house raids.
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