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Thursday, September 23, 1999 Published at 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK

World: Europe

Russia bombards Chechnya

Chechnya says it lost its only civilian aircraft in the bombing

Russian planes and missiles have attacked targets in the Chechen capital, Grozny - Moscow's first attacks on the city since the end of the war there three years ago.

Terror in Russia
  • Who is to blame?
  • What Russia can do
  • Timeline: The blasts which shook Russia
  • As the bombs fell Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov placed the republic on a war footing, ordering his commanders to prepare for a fresh Russian invasion.

    But Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says Russia has no plans for a large-scale military operation in the breakaway republic. He insisted that Russia would not be dragged into a conflict similar to the 1994-96 secessionist war that left some 80,000 people dead.

    "What happened in Chechnya several years ago will not be repeated," Interfax quoted Mr Putin as saying.

    Wall of fire

    Witnesses in Grozny said buildings shook as Russian warplanes bombed an airport.

    The Russian news agency RIA reported the capital was shoruded in smoke from a blaze at a refinery in the northeast of the city.

    "Suffocating black smoke envelops the city," the agency said. The Staropromyslovskiy district was a "roaring wall of fire up to 100 metres high". Police in Chechnya said five people were killed in the bombing.

    The Chechens also said their one functioning civilian plane had been destroyed.

    A spokesman for the Russian air force said planes struck at an aircraft, a fuel dump, an ammunition depot and a radar station being used by Islamic guerrillas for operation in the neighbouring Russian republic of Dagestan.

    "The radar station was registering flights by Russian aircraft over Chechnya and this information was going straight to the terrorists," a source at the headquarters of the federal forces in the Northern Caucasus told the Russian news agency Interfax.

    'No repeat of civil war'

    The Russians have been fighting Chechen-led guerrillas in Dagestan who are trying to establish an independent Islamic state.

    In the past two months, the Chechens have reported repeated incursions on or near the border with the republic of Dagestan.

    The attack on Grozny airport came as Russian warplanes continued to attack suspected guerrilla bases near the border between Chechnya and Dagestan.

    Earlier on Thursday, Russian officials confirmed several villages had been bombed overnight.

    Mobilisation of troops

    Over the weekend, Moscow said it had deployed some 30,000 Russian troops in an operation to seal the border of Chechnya.

    The moves coincide with reports of mobilisation of hundreds of Chechen militants on the border.

    Russian security forces have been maintaining a high profile on the streets of Moscow following recent bomb attacks on residential buildings.

    Moscow blames the rebels for the blasts, an accusation denied by the Chechen authorities.

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