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At Least 74 Reported Dead in Chechnya

Mon Aug 19,11:30 AM ET

By JUDITH INGRAM, Associated Press Writer

 

MOSCOW (AP) - A Russian military helicopter loaded with troops crashed in Chechnya ( news - web sites) on Monday, killing at least 74 people, Russian news agencies reported.

 

 

The Mi-26 — the heaviest and most powerful transport helicopter in the world — went down near the Russian military headquarters at Khankala, near the Chechen capital, Grozny.

 

There were varying reported on the number of casualties. The Russian military headquarters in Chechnya said preliminary information indicated there were no deaths.

 

But the Interfax and ITAR-Tass news agencies reported that at least 80 soldiers were killed, citing sources at the headquarters. Interfax later adjusted its toll to 74, saying 106 servicemen were aboard the helicopter and 32 survived. Interfax had earlier reported 110 on board.

 

The head of the Defense Ministry press office, Nikolai Deryabin, told ORT state television that the pilot had requested permission to perform an emergency landing because an engine was on fire. He said 13 or 14 servicemen were hospitalized, but offered no other details of casualties.

 

The military headquarters later said that there were at least 25 injured, but that fire and smoke from the crash hampered efforts to determine the full number of casualties.

 

Interfax said the helicopter was shot down by rebels.

 

The crash came amid a spate of rebel actions against federal forces, including attacks late last week in southwestern Chechnya that killed nine servicemen and five civilians. Some analysts said rebels were intensifying their actions to press the Russian government to enter peace negotiations. A Chechen rebel representative met last week in Geneva with Ivan Rybkin, a former head of Russia's Security Council, to talk about restarting talks stalled since last year.

 

The government maintains that the current war in Chechnya, launched in fall 1999, is all but over, with just isolated groups of rebels holding out. However, rebels unleash daily attacks that sap the military's manpower and morale.

 

Most of the attacks are small-scale, targeting soldiers and Chechen police and civilian officials who cooperate with them. But the rebels have made some high-profile hits against top officers.

 

In September 2001, two generals and 11 other Russian servicemen died when their helicopter was shot down by a shoulder-fired missile shortly after takeoff from Grozny. Another helicopter, an Mi-8 carrying two top Interior Ministry officials and 12 other people, crashed in Chechnya in January. The Kremlin said that crash was due to an accident, but an official with the Moscow-appointed civilian administration for Chechnya said that investigators had found some fragments of the helicopter that suggested it, too, was hit by a shoulder-fired missile.

 

Interfax, citing Deryabin, initially said 112 servicemen and five crew members were aboard the helicopter that went down Monday, but later said there were 106 servicemen aboard. The military headquarters in Chechnya said the wreckage was still on fire more than an hour after the crash, and that survivors were being evacuated.

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