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Chechnya Learns To Carry On

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President Clinton is in Russia to talk about arms control, Chechnya and restraints on freedom in the new Russia.

Regarding the latter two, CBS News Correspondent David Hawkins visited Chechnya and gave the following account of what he encountered:

Russia claims it has "pacified" Chechnya, but the helicopters fly fast and low to avoid rebel groundfire. Still, at a base in the foothills of Chechnya's southern mountains, a Russian officer says he can't remember the last time he fired his artillery. Saturday, his soldiers seem relaxed.

The last time I was in Grozny, Chechnya's capital, Russian troops had just captured the city. It was a gray, depopulated, smoking ruin. Grozny is still in ruin, but now, summer sunshine has brightened this apocalyptic landscape. A few refugees have returned to rebuild what's left of their lives.

By day, the Russians maintain tight control, but the rebels are slowly taking their toll. Ambushes and nighttime firefights in Grozny are common. The Russian casualty rate is higher than during either the Afghanistan War or the first Chechen War five years ago. But the highest price has been paid by Chechnya's non-combatants.

Rosa has four children and one on the way. She says Russian soldiers broke into her house, stole all the food, and took her husband away. Later, she saw his burned body passing by on top of a Russian armored vehicle. "I recognized his legs," she says. "The rest was just bones."

More than 100,000 refugees remain in camps on the Chechen border.

On the last day of school in the Akki-Yurt refugee camp, the children sing "Let there always be sunshine," accompanied by mothers' tears—a bittersweet mixture of pride and worry.

Whenever you hear the word "Chechen" it's almost always followed by "rebel" or "terrorist." But these people aren't terrorists. They're schoolteachers and farmers, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons.

Perhaps it's too simple a sentiment; in wartime there are always innocent victims caught between violent forces beyond their control. It may be an obvious fact of war, but it should never be forgotten.

By DAVID HAWKINS