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Monday, 17 September, 2001, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
Chechen rebels launch major attack
Russian paratroopers outside Gudermes
Russia recaptured Gudermes from rebels in 1999
Fighting is continuing in Chechnya's second city of Gudermes between Chechen rebels and Russian police stationed in the area.

Rebel commanders said they have taken control of the city, 30km (19 miles) east of the capital, Grozny, as well as the neighbouring town of Nozhai-Yurt.

Rebels also said they have begun attacks in another city, Argun, and that they have shot down a federal helicopter outside the capital, Grozny, killing 10 senior Russian officers including two generals.


There has been a surge in activity, but on just what scale we are still checking

Russian official
The Russian President's Representative to the Southern Federal District, Viktor Kazantsev, told the Russian News Agency Tass that the helicopter in which the officers were travelling was shot down near the government headquarters by air-defence systems and crashed in the area of Minutka Square.

"The Fuel tank exploded on impact. Ten passengers and three crew members died."

The Kremlin initially denied the attacks in Gudermes and Argun, but a spokesman has since confirmed that fighting did break out in both places.

Russian officials said the situation was not yet under control.

The BBC correspondent in Moscow, Chloe Arnold, says that if the Chechen rebels' claims that they have taken over Gudermes are true, it would be the worst outbreak of violence in Chechnya since Russia scaled down its military operation there at the beginning of the year.

Gudermes was recaptured from Chechen rebels soon after Moscow began its second war in Chechnya two years ago.

Monday's renewed attacks call into question Russia's position on the breakaway republic.

'Well-equipped'

An official in the office of Kremlin Chechnya, Sergei Yastrazhembsky, said: "There has been a surge in activity, but on just what scale we are still checking,"

Russian officials did confirm that at least three pro-Russian policemen died in the fighting around Gudermes.

Colonel General Valery Baranov said federal troops killed at least 15 rebels in fighting in Gudermes.

Map of Chechnya
Rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov said as well as shooting down the helicopter the rebels had seized a Russian military headquarters in Gudermes and launched a suicide car-bomb attack on a checkpoint in the town of Argun.

Up to 400 men are reported to have taken part in the offensive on Gudermes.

The Interfax news agency quoted unidentified sources in the town's police as saying the separatists were firing at numerous offices, federal units and police positions.

The rebels were said to be very well equipped and organised.

Trenches

The agency quoted eyewitnesses as saying servicemen were digging trenches on the outskirts of the city, some 30 km (19 miles) east of Grozny.

Russian troops are reported to have gone on high alert in Grozny, while a state of emergency has been declared in Gudermes.

Until earlier this year, Gudermes was the seat of the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jacky Rowland
"There has been fighting taking place"
See also:

06 Sep 01 | Europe
Chechnya's decade of disaster
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