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Thursday, August 26, 1999 Published at 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK

World: Europe

Russia pursues Dagestan rebels

Russian troops celebrate with Dagestani irregulars

Russian military aircraft have bombed suspected rebel bases in Chechnya in pursuit of Islamic separatists, who have been retreating from positions they seized in the neighbouring Russian republic of Dagestan.

Russian commanders say they reserve the right to strike the rebels wherever they are.

Local eyewitness reports say hundreds of Chechen villagers fled from their homes under the Russian bombardment, although the Russians insist they kept away from civilian areas.

There are no reports of civilian casualties.

The bombing raids were aimed at the bases of the maverick Chechen commander, Shamil Basayev and the Jordanian-born Hattab, whose forces seized a number of border villages in Dagestan three weeks ago

It remained unclear whether either commander was injured in the attacks.

Both are considered terrorists by Russia and top Moscow's most wanted list for their role both in this month's invasion of Dagestan and their leading roles in the1994-96 Chechen war.

Chechen witnesses said Russian military jets dropped seven bombs at a military training camp set up by Hattab near the village of Serzhenyurt.

In a separate strike, witnesses said Russian warplanes attacked the town of Kizinoy Am, the birthplace and home of Basayev.

Russian satisfaction

[ image: Vladimir Putin: Successful operation]
Vladimir Putin: Successful operation
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declared the 18-day offensive against the rebels a success.

He said the operation was carried out "swiftly and with minimal losses - we congratulate the Dagestani people, who came to the defence of their home".

The Russian defence ministry said 59 Russian soldiers were killed and more than 200 wounded.

Russia puts the insurgents' casualties at more than 1,000, although officials in the Chechen capital Grozny disptue that figure.

Islamic state

Despite this week's retreat, the rebels have said they will continue fighting to create an independent Muslim state in Dagestan.

The Muslim rebels crossed into southwest Dagestan on 7 August, seizing villages as part of a drive to set up an Islamic state in the northern Caucasus.

The rebellion posed the biggest threat to Russian security in the region since the end of the Chechen war in 1996.

The Chechen-led rebels, members of the Muslim fundamentalist Wahhabi sect, had proclaimed Dagestan independent of Russia.

The fighting caused an estimated 10,000 refugees to flee towards the Caspian Sea coast.

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Internet Links

CaspianNet: Dagestan Republic

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