A Murky Resolution

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PERVOMAYSKAYA, DAGESTAN: Russian President Boris Yeltsin said 82 hostages were released as the Russian army ended a four-day siege, killing all of the Chechen rebels holed up in Pervomayskaya, but conflicting reports indicated that only about half that many hostages survived the Russian offensive. Yeltsin's government had justified the brutal assault on Wednesday by arguing that all of the hostages were already dead. Unconcerned with the contradiction, a triumphant Yeltsin vowed to take the war to Chechen leader Jokhar Dudayev: "Now we will strike a blow at those Dudayev strongholds where there is no civilian population to put an end to this war." But although Yeltsin's government has won this battle, the demolition of Pervomayskaya may still spark a larger conflict. TIME's Yuri Zarakhovich reports that many in the autonomous republic of Dagestan are seething over what they see as the Russian government's willingness to risk the lives of Dagestani hostages to destroy the invading rebels. "Not unlike neighboring Chechnya, there are caches of weapons in every house here, and all the people are as volatile. Enmity towards Moscow is visibly growing. If Dagestan should ever rise against Moscow and traditional ethnic rivalries flare up with a renewed force, the ongoing Chechen war may seem just like the spark of a full-scale conflagration."