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Monday, 19 August, 2002, 18:31 GMT 19:31 UK
Tension rising in Chechen conflict
Russian soldiers

A Russian military transport helicopter with more than 100 people on board has crashed in Chechnya, but there are conflicting reports about the number of casualties and the cause of the crash.

Accurate information about Russia's military campaign in the breakaway republic is notoriously difficult to find.


Regular clashes between Chechen rebels and Russian troops are producing a steady stream of casualties

But recent reports suggest the fighting in Chechnya is intensifying.

Ever since Russia declared in May that the conflict in Chechnya was all but over, things seem to have gone from bad to worse.

Regular clashes between Chechen rebels and Russian troops are producing a steady stream of casualties.

Russia's latest military campaign in Chechnya began in 1999 after a series of bombings in residential areas of Moscow.

President Putin blamed those attacks on separatist rebels trying to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in Chechnya.

Al-Qaeda charge

After September's attacks in the United States, Mr Putin, has sought to justify the continuing military operation in the southern republic by describing it as part of the international war on terror.

Chechen rebels
Russia says the rebels have links to Bin Laden
The same argument is used to counter criticism of Russia's human rights record in Chechnya.

Russian intelligence officials have recently been saying that Chechen fighters have been trained and assisted by Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organisation.

The rebel leader and former Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov denies any such links.

But when in June Mr Maskhadov offered to suspend hositlities in return for fresh peace talks, Russia said it had discovered new evidence linking him to international terrorist groups.

Tension with Georgia

At the same time, fears have been raised that a new front may be opening in the conflict.

Last month, the neighbouring state of Georgia accused Russia of sending combat aircraft into its territory on the pretext of attacking Chechen rebels.

Moscow denies the accusation, but has in turn accused Georgia of allowing rebels to use its mountainous border region as a base from which to launch attacks.

Russia insists that it is close to having the situation in Chechnya under control - but more than two years after it began, the conflict continues to claim victims on both sides.

See also:

19 Aug 02 | Europe
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