Thursday, February 05, 2004

Chechnya death count

Russia lost at least 263 soldiers in Chechnya last year:

Two hundred and sixty three soldiers from the Russian armed forces were killed in Chechnya last year, a senior defense ministry official told reporters Wednesday, adding that the number was a steep decrease from 2002.

"The (defense) ministry's losses in Chechnya have decreased, and amount to 263 military killed in 2003, as against 463 in 2002," the official said under condition of anonymity.

He added that a total of 971 soldiers had died in Russia last year. "These are men who died for all kinds of reasons, in combat, in accidents, or for other reasons," the official said.

Russia has 31,000 soldiers currently deployed in Chechnya, where they are fighting separatist rebels across a third of the republic's territory, particularly in its mountainous south, the official said.

However, with the addition of interior ministry and FSB security agency (formerly KGB) forces, a total of some 70,000 troops are deployed in Chechnya, which has been at war since Russian forces rolled back into the separatist republic over four years ago.

Some 5,000 Russian soldiers have died since the beginning of the conflict, according to official figures. However, human rights groups claim that the real casualty figures are closer to 15,000, and that tens of thousands of civilians have been killed.


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