Russian launches new military crackdown in Chechnya


Russia said today its forces were launching new military action in Chechnya to stop rebel plans to stage "new acts of terror" like the mass hostage seizure at a Moscow theatre that ended in huge loss of life.

"From today the group of forces in Chechnya have launched broad-scale, tough and targeted special operations in all Chechnya's regions," Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said.

He said the move followed increasing information from the seething North Caucasus territory that separatists were recruiting "suicide-terrorists" and preparing "new acts of terror" there and elsewhere in Russia.

Shortly after Mr Ivanov spoke to reporters, further bad news from Chechnya hit the Kremlin with reports that rebels had shot down a Russian military helicopter in the province, killing nine servicemen.

Interfax news agency quoted Colonel Boris Podoprigora, deputy commander of Russian forces in Chechnya, as saying a Mi-8 helicopter had been brought down by a rocket fired from the edge of Chechnya's war-ravaged regional capital of Grozny.

He said Russian forces had launched a sweep operation in the area and two separatist fighters had been killed.

Mr Ivanov's remarks appeared to herald a fresh military crackdown in Chechnya and confirmed the Kremlin had slammed the door shut on peace talks to end the decades-long conflict there following the Moscow theatre siege that traumatised Russia.

More than 118 hostages, including several children, and most of the 50 rebels who seized them were killed when Russian forces gassed and then stormed the theatre on October 26 to end a three-day face-off.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's tough stance in the hostage crisis won broad support from Russians.