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Russian copter shot down in Chechnya
A Russian helicopter was shot down Tuesday in Chechnya by a missile, killing all three crew and one passenger aboard, an emergency official said.
The Mi-8 helicopter was 100 feet off the ground when it was hit, caught fire and fell in an explosion near Moscow's main military base in the region at Khankala, said Alexander Lemeshev, an official with Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry.
Three crew were aboard along with an officer who was accompanying the cargo, Lemeshev said. The deputy commander of Interior Ministry forces, Stanislav Kavun, told Interfax news agency the craft was shot down while attempting to land.
Chechen rebels have shot down several Russian helicopters during the two wars in the region in the past decade, including one packed with troops in August that left at least 119 people dead.
In Denmark, a Chechen rebel envoy on Monday expressed willingness to start unconditional peace talks with the Russian government.
The overture, made at a Chechen conference in Copenhagen, comes just days after rebels stormed a theater in Moscow, an attack that ended with more than 100 deaths after Russian forces pumped in a disabling gas and captured the building.
"We urge and we are asking (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, and we declare our readiness, to start peace talks without any preliminary terms," said Akhmed Zakayev, a representative of separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov.
Russia, which has so far insisted on a military solution in Chechnya, sharply criticized Denmark for holding the World Chechen Congress after the theater attack in which the rebels demanded Russia ends its war in the breakaway republic.
At the two-day conference, Chechens distanced themselves from the hostage-taking.
"We have no relations with terrorists," said Osman Ferzaouli, a Copenhagen-based Maskhadov representative.
About 100 Chechens, human rights activists and lawmakers from Russia and other European countries gathered attended the conference to discuss ways to end the fighting.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the Chechen Congress made any travel by Putin to Denmark impossible.
Denmark refused to ban the Chechen conference, citing rights of freedom of speech and assembly.
Russian forces retreated from Chechnya after a 1994-1996 war that left separatists in charge. Putin ordered troops to return in 1999 after attacks on a neighboring region and several deadly apartment bombings blamed on the rebels.
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