Chechen republic warns of war against Russia Strongman seeks troop withdrawal

November 11, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- The leader of the breakaway Chechen Republic threatened last night to go to war against Russia unless Moscow withdraws its troops from the strife-torn region by today.

Gen. Jokhar Dudayev, the Chechen strongman who runs his little mountain homeland like a fiefdom, called on his people "to rise and protect the independence of Chechenia," the Itar-Tass news agency reported.

A regiment of Russian paratroopers entered neighboring Ingushetia yesterday morning in a move to shut down the sudden ethnic fighting that erupted last week in Russia's southern Caucasian regions. The regiment reached -- or crossed -- the ill-defined border with the Chechen Republic late in the day.

The fighting, in which more than 200 people have been killed and thousands left homeless, now threatens to leave Russia with a bitter and intricate disaster on its hands, in a region rich with oil, weapons and blood feuds.

Acting Prime Minister Yegor T. Gaidar yesterday flew to North Ossetia, where the violence began, to get a firsthand look at the problem. The whole area lies under a state of emergency decree issued Nov. 2 by Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin.

The fighting broke out 11 days ago between the Ossetians and Ingush forces in the Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz.

The Ingush appear to have started it, but they also seem to be taking the brunt of the punishment, in what is just one more chapter in their unhappy history.

As an ethnic group they were shipped off to Asia by Josef V. Stalin for alleged collaboration with the Nazis during World War II. As they returned in later years, they were linked to the Chechens in a joint autonomous republic.

Last spring, General Dudayev, a slight man who favors big hats, declared independence for Chechen-Ingushetia and dared Mr. Yeltsin to do something about it. The Russian leader Yeltsin blustered and threatened but let it go at that.

Since then the Ingush have broken away from the Chechens, favoring continued ties with Russia. But they believe that Russia promised them a return of their ancestral land, some of which now lies in North Ossetia.

When that promise wasn't fulfilled, heavily armed irregulars poured into North Ossetia to take the land for themselves. The Ossetians fought back and thousands of Ingush families already living in the republic were forced to flee.

About 3,000 Russia troops spread out through Ossetia last week to put an end to the fighting.

But yesterday, as they entered Ingushetia, General Dudayev encouraged Ingush resistance and accused the Ingush leaders of betraying their own people by not fighting.

Earlier, he said his government would assist the Ingush people "not only with money and medicines, but also with people and guns, to help our brothers."

A leader of the Ingush defense forces told Russian television last night that his republic was prepared to muster 20,000 guerrillas to resist the Russians.

As Russian troops approached Chechen territory, General Dudayev declared a state of emergency and warned Russia "not to forget where the borders are."

If troops are not withdrawn, he said, both Nazran, in Ingush territory, and Vladikavkaz, in North Ossetia, "will be blown sky-high."

The Chechen Parliament declared yesterday that some of the Ingush areas being held by Russian troops "were never part of Ingushetia and are ancestral Chechen lands."

The Russians reported no incidents during the day yesterday.

In Vladikavkaz, Itar-Tass reported that most of the Ingush refugees who sought shelter in a mountain ravine that offered little protection from the early winter have been led out safely. About 3,000 people remain in the ravine, out of 10,000 who fled there when the fighting broke out.

The fighting in North Ossetia has momentarily distracted attention from the continuing war over the border in Georgia, where the South Ossetians have been fighting for independence and perhaps the right to join Russia.

Georgia leaders have denied any role in the outbreak in the north, but Georgian television expressed satisfaction over what it saw as the imminent breakup of Russia.

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