MOSCOW - Three officers will be tried for negligence in the March 2000 deaths of 22 Russian police troops in Chechnya by friendly fire, a blood bath that Russian officials publicly blamed on rebels, a newspaper reported Saturday.
The charges were filed in January 2001 but have been kept secret, the Moscow-based daily Izvestia reported. It said the trial begins Monday in a Moscow regional court and will be closed to the public and the media.
The Russian Prosecutor General's office confirmed Saturday that the case exists but referred all further questions to the court, where there was no answer to telephone calls.
A riot police unit from Sergiyev Posad, a city 20 miles from Moscow, had just arrived in the Chechen capital Grozny to replace other troops when they came under fire from machine guns and grenades. Officials said 22 were killed and 30 wounded in a battle that lasted four hours.
After the March 2 assault, thousands of people gathered in the officers' hometown to mourn their deaths.
At the time, a rebel commander even claimed credit for the killings, and for many Russians, the casualties added to the conviction that the Kremlin's war in Chechnya was justified by the conduct of separatist rebels in the southern region.
The Kremlin's spokesman on Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said at the time that surprise played a key role in what he said was an attack by rebels firing from well-protected positions. He said the attackers were able to flee following the fighting because their escape route was mined.
However, Izvestia reported that the attack was the result of a miscommunication among Russian forces who did not know the new troops from Sergiyev Posad were arriving. It said they were inadvertently attacked by police troops from Podolsk, another city near Moscow.
In what Izvestia said was a report on the investigation that it obtained, Russian Prosecutor Gen. Vladimir Ustinov said the troops had been informed only that a column of unidentified armed men in police uniform had arrived in Grozny - not that they were fellow Interior Ministry forces.
Ustinov said the top officer charged in the case - Maj. Gen. Boris Fadeyev, now head of Moscow region's traffic police and then a high official in military command who would have been responsible for security of the police from Sergiyev Posad - failed to follow proper procedure in arranging the troops' arrival.
``He didn't ensure the support of the column by armored units or helicopter and didn't coordinate the route of their movement with headquarters,'' Ustinov wrote, according to Izvestia. It said he would be the first general tried for a friendly fire incident in Chechnya.
The other two defendants are the former head of the Podolsk unit accused of carrying out the attack, Maj. Igor Tikhonov, and the former official for the Interior Ministry in the military command in Chechnya, Col. Mikhail Levchenko, the newspaper reported. It did not say what punishments the officers would face if convicted.