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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Truce Fails to Halt Chechnya Fighting

VALERIK, Chechnya -- Russian artillery pounded Chechen positions and villages in southern Chechnya on Friday, yielding only marginally to President Boris Yeltsin's moratorium on fighting that had taken effect at midnight.

After talks between Chechen and Russian commanders in the village of Noviye Atagi on Friday, Pyotr Kosov, an aide to the president of Ingushetia, said the Chechen side had not yet agreed to the cease-fire, Interfax reported.

There was some confusion however as Itar-Tass quoted Major General Gennady Troshev, who conducted the talks with Chechen commander Aslan Maskhadov, as saying the rebels had agreed to participate in the moratorium.

On the ground, Chechen fighters said they set little store by the temporary cease-fire in a war that is far from over, and which in daylight belongs to the Russians but at night to the rebels.

Fighters, who were sitting out the bombardment in a village along the edge of the central plain of Chechnya, spent the night in bunkers, taking cover from heavy and constant shelling that still reverberated around the surrounding hills late Friday morning. But they said the moratorium had made some difference.

"It is not as heavy as usual," said Isa, a battalion commander in one village.

Villagers said Russian helicopters and military jets had not carried out their regular morning and afternoon sorties Friday.

In Moscow, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev told Interfax that Chechen rebels had gone on the offensive early Friday only hours after the cease-fire came into effect and there had been Russian casualties. He said one Russian soldier had been killed and seven wounded.

Interfax reported that Chechen fighters had attacked the Russians near the village of Nozhai-Yurt in the southeast, where most of the remaining Chechen guerrillas are concentrated.

Grachev said his forces had "responded adequately to the armed provocations," but did not put a figure to Chechen casualties. The Defense Minister said Thursday that Russian troops would retaliate heavily if attacked.

Grachev said Friday's fighting may have occurred because "obviously the positions in the president's decree have not got through to all the armed groups in Chechnya."

Kosov quoted the Chechen commander Maskhadov as saying his side would not comply with the cease-fire because it had been ordered for propoganda purposes, Interfax said. But Kosov said the two sides had agreed to exchange some prisoners and wounded.

Two groups of tanks based at Russian posts near the village of Orekhovo were shelling that village midafternoon Thursday, while thick white smoke rose further west in the direction of Bamut.

A line of 40 Russian artillery pieces faced south along the road to Bamut, sending heavy shells and mortars over the few cars with a deafening roar.

Chechen fighters greeted the news of Yeltsin's cease-fire declaration with little enthusiasm, pointing out that previous ones had not lasted.

"The cease-fire means nothing to us. It does not help us. What we want is for the Russians to withdraw, nothing less," said one fighter.

The commander Isa did not say whether his men would hold their fire if the shelling stopped. His battalion is made up largely of experienced men who are part of an organized defense of southwest Chechnya. For the most part, they are fighting off any attempt by Russian troops to advance into the villages. But they also form what they call "storm groups" that circle around Russian positions and attack posts all over Chechnya.

Russian troops all over the republic say Chechens shoot at them at night.

"It is disinformation that the war is nearly over," said Lieutenant Colonel Andrei Belonovsky, first commander of Russian troops in eastern Chechnya, after his post in the center of Gudermes came under attack earlier in the week.

"They know the mountains well, the city well and of course they can work easily at night," he said of the Chechen fighters who cost his battalion 18 dead and 46 wounded in two days.

Belonovsky said he had orders to flush out the last resistance in the plains within a month and by July or August to press rebel leader Dzhokhar Dudayev's fighters into the hills.

He faces a huge task. The Chechen fighters remain optimistic, although some complain of a shortage of arms.

Russia's 14-day unilateral cease-fire has been timed to coincide with the May 9 victory celebrations in Moscow when up to 50 world leaders visit Russia.

U.S. President Bill Clinton appealed to Yeltsin in a telephone call Thursday to make the truce permanent. There was no official reaction from the Kremlin.