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The BBC's James Rodgers
"Rebel attack is a constant threat"
 real 28k

Thursday, 8 June, 2000, 00:37 GMT 01:37 UK
Suicide bombers strike in Chechnya
Russian soldier
Russian troops may now be facing a change in Chechen tactics
Two suicide bombers have attacked a Russian army base in Chechnya - the first such strike in the conflict.

The rebels claim that up to 27 soldiers were killed when the women drove a truck laden with high explosives into an army base at Alkhan-Yurt, 12km (7 miles) south-west of the regional capital Grozny.

I am going willingly to my death in the name of Allah and the freedom of the Chechen people

Suicide bomber Khala Barayeva

But Moscow said that only two men had been killed and five wounded.

The Kremlin's Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said a truck carrying a man and a woman had driven towards the headquarters of a unit of Omon troops - the elite Interior Ministry paramilitary police.

The vehicle approached the makeshift police station at top speed, rammed into a wall and exploded as the Russian forces ran towards it.

He said rebels hiding in undergrowth nearby then opened fire on the Russians, who radioed for extra support.

Two helicopters arrived at the scene and the gun battle quickly ended.

Cousin

Chechen rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov said that two Chechen women had been driving the explosive-laden truck.

Russian soldiers
Russian forces have secured the towns, but overall control still eludes them

One was a cousin of Arbi Barayev, a well-known rebel commander, he added.

Mr Udugov said that, before setting off on her mission, 22-year old Khala Barayeva had said: "I am going willingly to my death in the name of Allah and the freedom of the Chechen people."

Mr Udugov initially said 17 Russians had been killed in the attack, but later revised the figure upwards to 27.

He also denied that any gun battle had taken place after the blast.

Washington visit

In a separate development, Russia's Foreign Ministry has denounced a visit to the United States by Ilyas Akhmadov, foreign minister in Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's government.

The ministry said it had delivered "the most decisive protest" to the US Embassy over the visit, which it said "contradicts the spirit of Russian-American relations".

Mr Akhmadov unveiled a plan for peace talks at a news conference in Washington on Monday.

Last weekend, US President Bill Clinton repeated Western calls for an end to the fighting in Chechnya and the start of peace talks during a summit meeting in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin.

Moscow says it wants a political settlement in the region but refuses to hold talks with President Maskhadov, whom it says should stand trial for declaring Chechen independence.

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See also:

31 May 00 | Europe
Top Russians killed in Chechnya
11 May 00 | Europe
Russian convoy hit by rebels
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