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Thursday, 7 February, 2002, 17:13 GMT
Russian helicopter crashes in Chechnya
It is not clear if the helicopters crashed due to mechanical fault or rebel fire
Rescue workers were among those on board
A Russian military helicopter has crashed in Chechnya, killing several people, and bringing the tally of lost helicopters to three in the last two weeks.

The aircraft exploded shortly after take-off from the breakaway republic's capital, Grozny, on Thursday morning.

It was taking part in a search and rescue operation for another Russian helicopter which disappeared earlier this week.

The crash comes less than a fortnight after 14 senior Russian officials were killed when another helicopter came down.

Details of Thursday's crash are not yet clear, but some reports say eight of the 10 people on board have been killed.

'Mopping-up operations'

A military official said the aircraft fell to the ground from a height of 50 metres, and exploded as it hit the ground.

Map of the region
Doctors and rescue workers helping the search for the missing helicopter were reported to be on board at the time of the crash.

Russia's military has been battling to take control of the region from rebel fighters since it returned to Chechnya in 1999, following the failed 1994-1996 campaign.

On Thursday troops carried out a security sweep in the southern town of Shali, as well as in some districts of Grozny.

Regional anti-terrorist officials claimed the forces had killed a gangleader and his accomplice who had resisted the troops' actions.

Why do people disappear in virtually every operation? They are not phantoms.

Russia's human rights envoy
Vladimir Kalamanov
About 70 people were reported detained in the past day of "mopping up operations," which involve house-to-house searches for weapons and rebel activity.

The operations have long been criticised by local residents and human rights organisations.

On Thursday Russia's human rights envoy, Vladimir Kalamanov, also condemned the summary detentions and killings which accompany the operations.

"Why do people disappear in virtually every operation? They are not phantoms. They are Russian citizens and local residents," he said. "When people disappear into nothingness I cannot accept any justifications".

See also:

28 Sep 01 | Europe
Analysis: New rules in Chechnya
06 Sep 01 | Europe
Chechnya's decade of disaster
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