2nd Echelon with Servicemen Withdrawn from Chechnya will Leave the Republic Friday - 7 March, 2003

The 2nd echelon with federal servicemen withdrawn from Chechnya will leave the republic on Friday, Commander of the Joint Group of Forces in the North Caucasian Region, Lieutenant General Sergei Makarov told reporters.

According to the general, the reduction of the troops and the forces of the Group is proceeding under the established schedule. On March 5, the first echelon left the republic for the place of the servicemen's permanent deployment.

In the next echelon, the servicemen of the 21st operational task brigade of the Moscow district of the Russian Interior Ministry Troops will go home, said Makarov. Many servicemen of this brigade, he added, have been awarded orders and medals for courage in establishing law and order in Chechnya. The former commander of this brigade, Major General Gennady Fomenko, has been conferred the title of Hero of Russia. This title has also been conferred upon soldier Yevgeny Bushmelov.

The commander of the Group said that many troops and forces had already completed the fulfilment of the tasks, which were set to them by the leadership of the country and the operational headquarters. "As has already been determined and reported to the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, the Group will be reduced by 1,000 men," said Sergei Makarov.

Earlier, military sources in Grozny told RIA Novosti that on Friday 800 servicemen would leave Chechnya.

The withdrawal of the extra troops from Chechnya started on March 5 - two echelons, consisting of 63 platforms, left the station of Khankala and headed towards the central districts of Russia.

Sergei Makarov said that 371 servicemen and 56 items of military equipment had been sent to the places of their permanent deployment - an engineer battalion and a helicopter regiment of combat control of the Joint Group of Forces.

According to him, during its stay in Chechnya the engineer battalion examined 8,500 kilometres of motor roads, more than 650 square kilometres of the territory and 42,500 trains. This battalion demined 23,000 explosive devices and destroyed 38,000 pieces of unfit ammunition. Sergei Makarov underscored that more than 300 servicemen from this battalion were awarded orders and medals. The helicopter regiment took away wounded servicemen and military equipment.

The question of the withdrawal of additional troops from Chechnya was discussed on Tuesday by the Russian President with Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov. "We believe that the withdrawal of the additional troops will not influence the state of security in the Chechen republic," said Sergei Ivanov.

As the Defence Minister pointed out, approximately 30,000 - 35,000 servicemen will remain in the Chechen republic on a non-permanent basis to carry out special tasks.

Other servicemen will remain in the republic for permanent deployment - the 42nd division of the Defence Ministry, the 46th brigade of the Interior Ministry Troops, commandants' offices and commissariats.

At the present time, said the Defence Minister, the General Staff "is studying the possibility of transferring part of the extra non-combat hardware to the civilian authorities. They include tractors, graders, tents, stoves and beds, he explained. They will be useful especially for the inhabitants of the mountainous regions of the Chechen republic. All these things will be given to the government of the Chechen republic and the heads of the administrations for improving everyday life of the population.

The minister pointed out that the equipment would be directed first of all to the regions where the situation is especially difficult from the social point of view.