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Saturday, 2 November, 2002, 12:32 GMT
Russia targets Chechen refugee camps
Russian soldiers in a bunker near Grozny
Russia is increasing security across Chechnya

Russian troops stand alert and ready to go on the offensive.

Dozens of them are building a new base at the gates of the Sleptsovsk refugee camp.

A soup kitchen in Grozny
Food is scarce in Chechnya

It is just a small part of Russia's military crackdown along the border and right across Chechnya after last week's seizing of a Moscow theatre by armed Chechens and the subsequent deaths of more than 100 of their hostages during a rescue mission.

Inside the camp, the thousands of refugees whose homes have been destroyed by years of conflict are apprehensive.

They expect the Russians to enter their tent city soon, carrying out mass arrests - detaining sons and husbands suspected of supporting the Moscow hostagetakers, and their demands for an independent Chechnya.

In one tent, I found Suleiman Azanaurov and his family waiting for the inevitable Russian revenge.

Suleiman has been in the camp for the past three years. His house, and the cafe he used to run in the Chechen capital, Grozny, were blown up during the Russian assault on the city.

Aid handouts

Now, home is a tent shared with his wife and six children aged between eight months and 17 years old.

It is a squalid existence, reliant on handouts of aid and charity.

Suleiman is angry. He dismisses accusations that the Chechens who went to Moscow are terrorists - as far as he's concerned, they were heroes.


The whole Chechen nation, all of us, support our boys who are fighting for independence with weapons in their hands

Chechen refugee

He tells me they were fighting for Chechnya's independence, drawing attention to a cause the world prefers to ignore.

Suleiman says he has no doubts that they did the right thing, even though more than 100 of their hostages died during an operation to rescue them:

"These people had no other option. They carried out this extreme act because we can't stand this war anymore.

"Today, in Chechnya, the whole nation is being exterminated. Even Nazi Germany didn't act so badly. We have nothing to lose."

'Terrorist training bases'

The Russian troops outside the camp see it differently. They believe the camps are a hotbed of dissent.

One officer told us that the camp was "full of terrorists". Alexander Machevsky, an adviser to Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, says Chechnya is full of terrorist training bases and however long it takes, they will be wiped out.

The Russian Government is determined, above all, that there should be no repeat of the Moscow incident.

Map of Russia showing Cechnya and Grozny
The crackdown, though, will serve only to exacerbate Chechen anger.

In his tent, Suleiman says there will be more violent acts against the Russians unless they agree to peace talks - a political solution, not a military one, to Chechnya's crisis.

Suleiman tells me: "It may be worse, much worse. That's why we ask Russia today to start peaceful negotiations.

"Because the whole Chechen nation, all of us, support our boys who are fighting for independence with weapons in their hands."


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