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Friday, 27 September, 2002, 13:26 GMT 14:26 UK
Russia pursues Chechen rebels
Russian helicopter in action in Galashki
Helicopter gunships are now being used cautiously
The Russian military says it is still pursuing Chechen rebels who fought a fierce battle with Russian forces on Thursday in the southern republic of Ingushetia.

Russian officials looks at a flag seized from Chechen rebels
Russians have captured three rebels, and a flag
"All possible paths they could use have been blocked," said the republic's deputy Interior Minister, Khamatkhan Albakov.

Russian officers say dozens of rebels died in the clashes near the village of Galashki on Thursday, and helicopters and artillery were in action overnight.

"Helicopters located camp fires where the fighters were warming themselves. These were immediately bombed," the Interfax news agency quoted an official as saying.

Not destroyed

Russia's NTV television said the rebels had unsuccessfully tried to cross into Chechnya during the night.

Click here to see a map of the area

It is reported that they had previously been hiding in the Pankisi Gorge in northern Georgia, until Georgian forces began an operation to flush them out.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov told President Vladimir Putin that the group of 180 had not been completely destroyed.

Other officials said three fighters who had been taken captive said they crossed into Ingushetia on 1 September.

During the fighting on Thursday they shot down a Russian helicopter with a portable missile launcher, killing the crew of two.

A military spokesman said on Friday that helicopter gunships were now being used "cautiously".

Casualties

The number of casualties is unclear, with one Russian report of 70 dead in Galashki, where the helicopter was shot down, and a similar number in other areas where clashes took place.

Among the dead was a British news television reporter, 31-year-old Roddy Scott.

Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili said Georgia was not responsible for the events in Chechnya.

"The Pankisi Gorge operation is intended to ensure that there are no potential threats to Russia from Georgian territory. We have assumed this commitment and will meet it."

Russia has threatened to attack Chechen rebels on Georgian territory, unless Georgia does the job itself.

Georgia points out that Russia drove the rebels across the border in the first place, and says its main aim is to drive them back.

Thursday's fighting was the heaviest seen in Ingushetia in the last three years of conflict.



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 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"Russian helicopters swooping across the skies are the aftermath of today's fighting"
Professor Robert Service, Russian History Oxford
"Russia is looking for last straws"
The BBC's Nikolai Gorshkov in Moscow
"Russia is looking for international support, especially from the United States"
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