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The BBC's Fergus Nicholl
"Extraction from the Cechen quagmire is not going to be easy for President Putin"
 real 56k

The BBC's Jacky Rowland
"The government says the war against the rebels in winding down"
 real 28k

Saturday, 14 April, 2001, 12:43 GMT 13:43 UK
Putin makes surprise visit to Chechnya
Russian soldiers on duty in Chechnya
The fighting has subsided but peace remains far off
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been making an unannounced visit to the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

Mr Putin, who flew in by helicopter, laid flowers in memory of 84 Russian paratroopers who were killed in an ambush by separatist fighters a year ago and inspected a commando unit.

He then went on to a military base, Khankala, outside the capital, Grozny, for talks with local officials.

Shamalu Deniyev
Mr Deniyev : the most senior official to be killed since 1999
Mr Putin's visit comes two days after a leading official of the pro-Russian administration in Chechnya was killed in a bomb attack blamed on Chechen rebels.

President Putin, who last visited Chechnya just before being elected in March last year, told Russian state television he was primarily there to discuss the financing of federal forces in the region.

"In fact, one of the problems which we plan to deal with today is precisely financing, material support, and the exact payment of combat pay, " he said.

Some of the soldiers who signed up for duty in Chechnya on a contract basis have complained that they have not been paid.

Ambushes and attacks

The Russian Government says the war to subdue Chechen rebels is winding down.

But, although guerrillas no longer launch large-scale military operations, Russian troops suffer daily casualties from ambushes and landmines.

Late on Thursday, Shamalu Deniyev, a deputy head of the pro-Russian administration was killed in a bomb attack.

He was giving a live television address at a studio in the town of Avtury, south-east of Grozny, when the bomb exploded.

No one has admitted responsibility, but the attack has been blamed on rebels fighting for Chechen independence.

They have already killed others on a published list of local officials whom they regard as traitors.

Military presence

Russian troops were driven out of Chechnya by guerrillas in 1996.

They returned in September 1999 and have occupied most of the region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin: firm line with Chechen rebels
Last month, the Russian authorities began pulling out some troops in what they described as proof of the growing stability in Chechnya.

The rebels, though, warn that the fighting is far from over.

Mr Putin owes much of his popularity to the tough line he has taken with Chechen separatists.

But the BBC's Moscow correspondent Jacky Rowland says continuing attacks on soldiers and federal officials show that Moscow will have to maintain its military commitment in Chechnya for the foreseeable future.

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See also:

13 Apr 01 | Europe
Top official killed in Chechnya
13 Mar 01 | Media reports
Russia begins Chechnya pullout
29 Nov 00 | Europe
Eyewitness: Chechnya's bitter war
01 Oct 00 | Europe
Analysis: Chechnya one year on
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