Saying “mad dogs must be shot,” President Boris Yeltsin on Friday defended the blistering Russian military assault on a village where Chechen rebels held more than 100 frightened captives for a week.
Yeltsin claimed the Russian assault was designed to minimize civilian casualties in Pervomayskaya and let the hostages flee.
“Of course, elderly people weren’t able to run,” he admitted. “But others ran away and some were rescued.”
Out of 120 hostages, 24 were missing and possibly dead, Yeltsin said.
Like all the official and often contradictory figures on the hostage-taking in Pervomayskaya, these, too, were impossible to confirm. Earlier, Yeltsin said 82 hostages were freed when his forces attacked the Chechen fighters to end a weeklong standoff, and 18 were missing.
A related hostage-taking ended Friday when rebel sympathizers who seized a Russia-bound ferry in Turkey threw their weapons into the Black Sea and surrendered peacefully to Turkish authorities.
There were no reports of injuries and the Turkish premier, Tansu Ciller, said no deals were made with the hijackers. At one point during the four-day ordeal, the gunmen had threatened to blow the boat up if Russia didn’t stop the battle at Pervomayskaya.
The hijackers seized the ferry Tuesday in the port of Trabzon and took the boat on a 550-mile journey to Istanbul. Their commander reportedly was a Turkish citizen who fought with Chechen separatists.
At his news conference, Yeltsin scolded Turkey for refusing his offer to send warships and 150 underwater commandos to free the ferry hostages, many of them Russians.
Officials in the Russian republic of Dagestan said Friday that 95 percent of the houses in Pervomayskaya had been damaged or destroyed in Russia’s four-day offensive, the Interfax news agency reported.
Russian troops maneuvered around the ruins counting the dead, looking for rebel holdout and searching for mines. There was still no word on civilian casualties.
Reporters were expelled from Pervomayskaya and neighboring Sovetskoye on Tuesday, and the two villages remained sealed off Friday.
Yeltsin insisted the huge assault was the only way to end the crisis. “Mad dogs must be shot,” he said.
He said 27 soldiers died in the fighting and 180 Chechen rebels were killed.
An official of the Kremlin-backed government in Chechnya said the rebel band’s leader, Salman Raduyev, had escaped to Chechnya, just a mile from Pervomayskaya.
Senior military officials had claimed earlier this week that the rebels had killed most of the hostages. They ordered the bombardment of Pervomayskaya saying there was no hope of finding more hostages alive.
Yeltsin claimed the village concealed a huge arms stockpile, and that the Chechens have many such “lairs.”
He vowed that Russian troops will search out and destroy them. “Quietly, quietly. It will all be done quietly,” he said. “There will be no frontal war…”