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Wednesday, October 13, 1999 Published at 03:44 GMT 04:44 UK


World: Europe

'Heavy battles' under way in Chechnya

A Russian tank patrolling in Shelkovskaya, 15km northeast of Grozny

Russia has repeated its claim to have surrounded Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev and said forces in the area were engaged in intense fighting.

Battle for the Caucasus
Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev said "heavy battles" were under way near the village of Goragorsky, west of the Chechen capital Grozny.

He said that Chechen forces were suffering "quite substantial losses" against "minimal losses" among Russian troops.


BBC's Jonathan Hill: "Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev has raised the stakes"
On Monday, Major General Vladimir Shamanov, commander of Russia's 58th Army, told ORT television he had "blockaded" Mr Basayev in the area.

"He is rushing around like a lousy dog," Gen Shamanov said.

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has denied that Mr Basayev is in the area and said his forces had launched a fierce counter attack against Russian troops around Goragorsky.


[ image: Chechen soldiers digging trenches at Cherviennaya on Monday]
Chechen soldiers digging trenches at Cherviennaya on Monday
"Our forces have started a counter-offensive in the north, above the River Terek, and they have already taken control of the Cherviennaya-Uzlovaya settlement," he said, according to AFP news agency.

He said 200 Russian troops had been killed.

Reports said Tuesday's attacks by Russian forces also targeted several fronts north of the Chechen capital, Grozny, and near the western town of Bamut.

Mr Sergeyev has said Russia will continue its military campaign until it regains full control of Chechnya.

"The troops will not stop - they will fulfil the task of liquidating armed groups and terrorist bands in the territory," he said, according to the Itar-Tass news agency.

Click here to see a map of the area

Russia currently occupies about a third of Chechnya - the area north of the River Terek - and defence officials say troops are now digging in as part of a "security zone" to protect Russia's southern flank.

Russian forces advanced into Chechnya at the start of October, saying they wanted to create a buffer to neutralise Chechen guerrillas.

Mr Sergeyev's statement indicates that federal forces will not stop there.


[ image: Defence Minister Sergeyev says Russian forces will eliminate the guerrillas]
Defence Minister Sergeyev says Russian forces will eliminate the guerrillas
On Tuesday, officials in Moscow warned that Chechen "terrorists" were planning to attack Russian nuclear facilities.

Russian Defence Ministry officials said Mr Basayev and another warlord, Salman Raduyev, were both planning "large-scale" terrorist attacks inside Russia.

They did not provide any evidence, but said Mr Raduyev had established groups of up to 15 people to conduct "a series of diversions in Russian regions, aimed particularly at nuclear sites".

They said Mr Basayev, who led incursions into neighbouring Dagestan earlier this year, had been training "women terrorists" to conduct attacks in southern Russia.

Itar-Tass quoted Defence Ministry officials as saying that people of Slav origin - who would more easily escape detection in Russia - had been recruited to carry out sabotage.

Both guerrilla leaders came to prominence during Russia's disastrous 1994-96 war against Chechen separatists, when they masterminding a series of kidnappings in southern Russian.

On Monday, Mr Basayev told AFP that he was prepared to launch a terrorist campaign on Russian soil in reprisal for Moscow's offensive.

"This may happen soon," he added. "I have enough men and equipment to mount such an operation."

Refugees


[ image: There are now more than 160,000 Chechen refugees]
There are now more than 160,000 Chechen refugees
Russia's Emergencies Ministry said on Tuesday that the fighting had displaced more than 166,000 refugees, the majority of whom had fled to the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia.

The Chechens said on Monday that Russian air and artillery attacks on Chechnya had left more than 700 people dead since they began in early September.

Neither figure has been independently confirmed.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Monday that he would not consider President Maskhadov offer of peace talks until Chechnya agreed to handover "terrorists" blamed for a series of bombings inside Russia.



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