December 19, 1996 in Nation/World

Slaughter Of Red Cross Workers ‘Catastrophe’ Chechen Leader Says Attack Was Attempt To Destroy Peace Agreement

Associated Press

The slayings of six Red Cross workers are a “national catastrophe” for Chechnya, the leader of the separatist republic said Wednesday.

Aslan Maskhadov, head of the coalition government, said Tuesday’s pre- dawn attack was an attempt to destabilize Chechnya, where a peace agreement with Moscow has held since August.

The motive for the slayings at a field hospital south of Grozny and the identity of the killers were not known.

In New York, the United Nations announced it was suspending refugee operations in Chechnya in response to the slayings. U.N. Spokesman Sylvana Foa said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has about 14 international staff and 30 Chechens helping the estimated 80,000 people displaced by the war.

Maskhadov, the rebels’ military chief during the 20-month war, said Chechen officials would do everything possible to bring the killers to justice.

“This is a national catastrophe for us,” he said. “Such a thing could be done only by renegades who fiercely hate not only the Chechen people but all humankind.”

Russian President Boris Yeltsin was shocked by the killings, and said they were clearly aimed at dismantling the peace agreement, said his spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky. The agreement calls for elections to be held in the region on Jan. 27.

Chechen leaders said measures were being taken to improve security for foreign election observers.

The Russian military pullout and the peace deal have enemies on both sides and tensions have been rising, especially since a rogue Chechen field commander kidnapped 22 Russian troops several days ago. The hostages were freed Wednesday.

More than 100 anxious relatives of patients crowded around the Red Cross hospital in the village of Noviye Atagi, afraid that it would close down only three months after it opened.

“This hospital was the only place that offered free and reliable medical help,” said Khava Muradova, whose wounded son has gangrene and was supposed to have surgery Wednesday.

Red Cross officials said local personnel were treating the 35 patients, but relatives couldn’t enter the hospital, sealed off by Chechen guards.

“The Red Cross has had experience in many war zones of the world, and we must say that Chechnya has proved to be one of the most difficult,” said Victoria Catliff, an agency spokeswoman in Moscow. “The respect for the Red Cross and for humanitarian organizations in general has not prevailed.”

© Copyright 1996 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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