First Russian Regiment Pulls Out of Chechnya
GROZNY, Russia (AP) _ A regiment of Russian troops pulled out of Chechnya today, the first to leave since a July 30 accord on ending the eight-month war.
``We’re going home!″ one jubilant officer cried as the long column of 160 armored personnel carriers, light tanks and trucks crossed the border.
The 503rd Regiment, about 2,000 strong, has been in Chechnya since January, most recently on the front lines near Vedeno, a traditional stronghold of Chechen separatism.
It was headed for its base in Vladikavkaz, a city in southern Russia about 55 miles from the Chechen border.
Meanwhile, there were reports that another group of Chechen fighters would lay down their guns in the town of Achkhoy-Martan. Talks between field commanders from both sides were under way.
The area around Achkhoy Martan, 15 miles southwest of Grozny, has been tense since Russian troops poured into Chechnya in December to snuff out the republic’s three years of self-proclaimed independence.
The war has killed thousands of civilians and soldiers and the recent, fragile prelude to peace has been broken by nightly skirmishes. Russian planes this week bombed several mountain villages southwest of Grozny.
Mutual suspicion runs deep, despite steps on both sides to comply with the July 30 accord calling for the Chechens to disarm and the Russians to pull out all but two brigades.
The armed forces newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda today suggested the Chechens were handing over only old weapons and stockpiling the best stuff.
``Where are the Kalashnikov submachine guns, recoilless guns, trench mortars, anti-tank guided missiles, portable antiaircraft systems?″ it asked. ``They haven’t been turned over and evidently won’t be.″
Despite the distrust, both sides are hailing the end of the bitter, unpopular war.
In Vedeno, a mountain village 28 miles southeast of Grozny, the guest of honor at a ceremony honoring the end of the war was the local Russian commander.
``We should have left long ago,″ said Col. Vyacheslav Miroshnichenko said, sitting amid a group of Chechen guerrillas.
With steps taken toward implementing the military accord, international mediators are now trying to get peace talks on a political settlement back on track. It was unclear when a new round of negotiations would start.