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The BBC's Orla Guerin reports
"The fighting has been fierce"
 real 28k

Saturday, 19 February, 2000, 14:30 GMT
Chechens down Russian helicopter

wreckage Kavkaz agency says this is the stricken helicopter

Chechen rebels have shot down a Russian army helicopter during intense fighting in the south of the republic.

Battle for the Caucasus
Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo said the separatists brought down the helicopter on Friday, killing 15 people.

"Yesterday was a tragic day," he said during a visit to a Moscow hospital, the Interfax news agency reported.

The statement was a rare admission by Moscow of losses in the Chechen war.

A pro-Chechen website meanwhile reported that 26 Russian paratroopers had been killed in the attack, which it said happened in the southern Shatoy District of Chechnya.

The Kavkaz Centre News Agency site showed a dramatic photograph of what it said was the helicopter in flames.

The website said the aircraft had been transporting paratroops into Chechnya's southern mountains, where Russian troops are meeting fierce resistance in taking the last rebel strongholds.

Click here for map of recent fighting

A spokesmen at the headquarters of the Russian forces in the North Caucasus said their aircraft have flown more than 150 combat missions over Chechnya in the past 24 hours.

Russia soldiers Russia: Taking the fight into the mountains
Su-24 and Su-25 planes and Mi-24 helicopter gunships are said to have targeted the Argun and Vedeno districts, east and south-east of Grozny, as well as the Itum-Kale district and the Vedeno gorge in the south of the republic.

The Russians said a number of rebel vehicles, anti-aircraft installations and communication facilities and a relay transmitter had been destroyed.

Fierce fighting

Russia's Deputy Chief of Staff, Colonel-General Valery Manilov, said Russia now controlled most of the strategically-important areas in Chechnya, but that up to 7,000 militants were still resisting federal forces in the mountain passes.

He said the Russian strategy of using air and artillery strikes against distant rebel bases in the mountains was working.

Meanwhile, Itar-Tass quoted Russian defence officials as denying reports that one of Chechnya's most notorious warlords, Salman Raduyev, has been killed in the fighting.

A press release issued by Russia's command in Chechnya said: "Ringleaders of separatists, to avoid retribution for committed crimes, are trying to falsify the fact of their death."

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See also:
19 Feb 00 |  Europe
Row over Chechnya 'atrocities'
18 Feb 00 |  Europe
Russia to seal Grozny
15 Feb 00 |  Europe
Russians urged to stop 'vacuum' bombings
16 Feb 00 |  Europe
Russia prepares for Chechen strike
14 Feb 00 |  Europe
Fighting in key Chechen gorge
11 Feb 00 |  Europe
Call for Grozny 'executions' probe

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