SHADOW WAR PLAGUES CHECHNYA

An American on a disaster-relief mission disappears.

Two dozen journalists are killed, and a steady string of kidnappings and
robberies keeps aid workers from helping the region.

Alongside Chechnya’s war between Russian troops and separatist guerrillas has
existed a shadow war of abductions and executions — this one waged by rogue
groups that often target noncombatants.

A truce has largely silenced the combat. But the shadow war continues, as
seen in the massacre Tuesday of six Red Cross workers as they slept in their
beds, a slaying for which no group has claimed responsibility.

“You can’t predict the violence — it can happen at any time from any side,”
says Nicolas Sagaradze of the humanitarian-aid group Doctors Without Borders,
which decided in October to pull its people out of Chechnya after a series of
threats and kidnappings.

“There are too many political groups in Chechnya,” he said. “We meet with the
officials, the Russians and the Chechens, both sides, but still you have
uncontrolled groups.”

Many Chechens believe Russian intelligence agencies plan attacks to create
chaos, discredit the separatists and provide a pretext for another military
clampdown on the republic.

Russian generals regularly ignored Kremlin orders during the war, and some
were hostile to the August truce, which was an embarrassing military setback for
the Russians and left Chechnya largely in separatist hands.

Russian authorities say the rebels cannot control their fighting groups or
the many villagers who have guns.

“When there are plenty of weapons in every home, when people’s hands have
grown more accustomed to pulling a trigger than holding a plow or construction
tools, then killing becomes normal,” the Russian government’s newspaper,
Rossiiskaya Gazeta, said Wednesday.

Other observers attribute much of the violence to banditry. Chechnya is a
poor country full of guns, drugs, unpaid soldiers and a variety of subterranean
interests. Kidnapping is a traditional Caucasus practice, aid workers say, and
many of the abductions are accompanied by ransom demands.

The Red Cross slaughter, however, carried no political demands and there was
no robbery.

As for the high number of reporters killed while covering the war, Oleg
Panfilov of the Glasnost Defense Fund accused military authorities of going to
any lengths to stifle the media.

“This habit dates from Soviet times, when almost everything was covered with
the shadow of secrecy,” he said.

Foreign aid workers and journalists are kept constantly off balance in a
region that is traditionally suspicious of outsiders.

The old Soviet Red Cross, unconnected to the Swiss-based International
Committee of the Red Cross, was widely viewed as a propaganda arm of the
Kremlin.

One of the most prominent, unsolved attacks on noncombatants in Chechnya is
the disappearance of American Fred Cuny in April 1995, along with his Russian
translator and two Russian doctors.

The disaster-relief expert had been on a mission for the Soros Foundation, a
New York-based philanthropic organization.

Russian and Chechen officials hold each other responsible for his death,
while Cuny’s relatives say Russian intelligence agencies spread rumors that he
was a spy and those rumors prompted Chechen fighters to kill him.