A woman fleeing fighting in Chechnya told radio and television reporters today that masked Russian troops sprayed a group of civilians with automatic gunfire near the village of Goity on Friday, killing 40 people. Russian officials blamed the attack on Chechen guerrillas.
Radio Liberty first reported the incident, based on an account given by a Chechen woman named Tatyana Aidamarova, who said she fled the combat zone in a car riddled with bullets.
"They came up themselves. Their cannons were a bit farther away, and they shot from their rifles at point-blank range," Aidamarova said. "They checked the cars. They saw dead people were lying there. They did not explain anything. They were all in masks, and so satisfied, as if that was the way it should be. I do not know such cruel people, that everyone had to die."
Russian television today also broadcast an interview with the clearly shaken Aidamarova, who was hospitalized in Grozny. She spoke less coherently than in the radio account, but said that after the shooting, the Russians "came up to us and asked maliciously, 'What happened?' As if someone else had been shooting from somewhere. They asked, 'Anybody wounded?' We said yes. . . . And they came up and did some bandaging."
But an army officer interviewed on the same broadcast denied that Russian troops controlled the area south of Grozny, the Chechen capital, where the shootings allegedly occurred.
"The militants realize they are being defeated on the battlefield, so they resort to provocations against the local population and carry out active information warfare," the officer said.
Russian forces have effectively sealed off the breakaway region to outside observers, making reports of fighting and atrocities difficult to confirm. But sources in the government of Ingushetia, a Russian region that borders Chechnya, said they believed that only seven people were killed in the Friday incident.
Civilians trying to flee the fighting have faced grave danger as villages and towns have come under heavy bombardment from Russian artillery, tanks, rockets and airstrikes. In October, Russian jets bombed a refugee convoy, killing 27 people, including two Red Cross workers.