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Saturday, September 11, 1999 Published at 13:47 GMT 14:47 UK

World: Europe

Russian helicopter downed in Dagestan

Russian artillery ranged against Islamic militants in Dagestan

Rebels downed a Russian military helicopter in Dagestan as fighting continued in the Russian republic on Saturday.

A spokesman for the Russian armed forces, quoted by Itar-Tass news agency, said the helicopter was shot down near the Dagestani village of Duchi while on a reconaissance mission.

Federal troops were searching for two airmen who were seen parachuting to safety.

The report came amid unconfirmed reports of heavy losses on the Russian side, with at least 40 dead.

Reports from the region say Russian troops have been pounding rebel positions in three villages - Chapayevo, Novolakskoye and Duchi - with heavy artillery and helicopter gunships.

[ image: Putin:
Putin: "No grounds" to discuss emergency rule
The reported losses were the heaviest so far recorded by federal forces in the month-long struggle to crush some 2,000 rebels fighting to create an Islamic republic in the Northern Caucasus.

Russian military sources had previously put Russian losses since 7 August at 215 dead, 771 wounded and 37 missing.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Saturday there was no reason to introduce a state of emergency in Russia, in spite of the fighting. He was speaking as he arrived in Auckland for the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum (Apec).

The prime minister has already ordered tighter security around the country, including at Russia's nine nuclear power plants, because of increased fears of terrorism.

Chechen mobilisation

In the neighbouring Chechen Republic President Aslan Maskhadov has extended a state of emergency and mobilised his armed forces in response to a week of Russian air raids on Chechen border villages which have left 150 people dead.

[ image: There are fears for the safety of civilians]
There are fears for the safety of civilians
Moscow has accused Chechnya's authorities of allowing the Islamists to use the breakaway republic to launch their insurgency in Dagestan.

Mr Maskhadov insists the rebels in Dagestan are rogue elements which are not under his control.

The federal forces have made considerable gains against armed guerillas in Dagestan over the past few days, including the recapture of the village of Gamiyakh.

A total of 500 Muslim fighters were originally thought to be active in the area, which broke away from the local authorities a year ago and established a self-governing area ruled by Islamic Sharia law.


In Moscow on Saturday funerals were held of those who died following a massive explosion in a city residential block which officials said could be linked to the crisis in Dagestan.

City Mayor Yury Luzhkov said it was "eminently clear" that a terrorist attack had shattered the eight-storey apartment block.

But Mr Putin has cautioned that the tragedy could be "criminal negligence" by people who had illegally stocked explosives in a residential building.

Monday has been declared a national day of mourning for the victims of the apartment block blast and two other recent bombings, in Dagestan and at a Moscow shopping mall, which have left over 150 dead in 10 days.

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