A Killing In Chechnya

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NOVIYE ATAGI, Chechnya: The Red Cross is evacuating its personnel and suspending operations in Chechnya after six of its delegates were shot as they slept in the Noviye Atagi Red Cross hospital compound early Tuesday morning. Five doctors and a maintenance worker died while another was seriously wounded in the execution-style shooting, the worst single attack on Red Cross workers in its 133-year history. "The people who did it knew exactly what they were doing." said Red Cross representative Kim Gordon-Bates. "Nothing was stolen." Although Russian Interior Ministry troops have begun an investigation, there is no guarantee they will find the killers, who could be rogue field commanders from either side or bandits. The question is, even in Chechnya's chaotic environment, why would anyone target relief workers? Ruslan Kutayev, minister of the Russian-backed Chechen government, called the attack an intentional and planned provocation aimed at derailing elections scheduled for January 27th. "The shooting comes on the heels of a hostage taking incident over the weekend on the Chechen Daghestan border, when 22 Russian Interior Ministry troops were taken," says TIME's Andrew Meier. "It looks as if there is some infighting between Chechen commanders; someone dosn't want the elections to happen." The Red Cross is pointing no fingers, and hasn't said yet which local Chechen boss was responsible for the hospital's security. Earlier this month, in response to threats that foreigners could be in danger, the Red Cross pulled some of its staff out of the war-ravaged Caucuses republic, which still sees sporadic violence. In Chechnya to discuss further details of the ongoing cease-fire, Russian national security boss Ivan Rybkin wearily condemned the attack and urged Chechen forces to thwart any further shootings. Since a tentative peace was signed in August, Russian troops have almost entirely pulled out from Chechnya, leaving the republic, which has serious secessionist ambitions, essentially to its own devices. Tuesday's shooting serves as a grim reminder that although war is over, the killing is still going on.