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Russia Mourns Chechnya Military Crash Victims - 2002-08-22

Thursday is a day of national mourning in Russia for victims of Monday's military helicopter crash in Chechnya. The death toll in the crash rose to 116 when another injured soldier died overnight.

Flags are flying at half staff across the country as Russians mourn for the soldiers who lost their lives when their MI-26 transport helicopter went down in a minefield in Khankala in the breakaway region of Chechnya.

Investigators are pursuing two possible causes for the crash: technical malfunction or an attack by rebels in Chechnya.

Chechen separatist rebels have claimed responsibility for downing the aircraft with a missile. And, a discarded missile launcher was found later near the crash site just outside Grozny, the Chechen capital.

But Russia's deputy prosecutor general has said it may take up to one month to determine the exact cause of the crash.

Russian newspaper and television reports criticized government forces for allowing such a serious attack on its troops to happen near one of its most heavily guarded military bases in Chechnya.

Russian media also blasted the government's most recent claims that life in Chechnya is returning to normal and that pro-Moscow administrators are in firm control of the break-away region.

Russian soldiers have been battling Chechen separatists for control of the region since 1999.