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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechens Flee Assault on Mountains

NOVY ATAGI, Chechnya -- Villagers streamed down from the mountains in southern Chechnya on Thursday, fleeing Russian forces' intensive shelling of rebel positions.


Russian troops unleashed unusually fierce mortar and artillery bombardments against the locality of Shatoi, about 50 kilometers south of the capital Grozny, and shelled other rebel-controlled villages along the way.


Chechen officials said Russian warplanes had made eight bombing sorties overnight on Shatoi and on two other villages.


Rebels near the village of Bamut came under fire from helicopter gunships, Interfax reported.


Itar-Tass said Russian preparations for a new offensive had been completed.


Chief rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov, speaking by telephone, said eight people had been killed and from 10 to 40 others wounded in Thursday's action.


But he was disdainful of the effectiveness of the Russian military action. "There are a host of areas still controlled by the Chechens.


Civilians who are angry with the bombings are taking up arms to join us. The Russian troops have no prospects," he said.


The fierce Russian assault followed a statement Wednesday by a senior Russian officer that elite paratroop units would mount a big push soon against separatist mountain strongholds.


An over-stretched hospital at Novy Atagi, 20 kilometers south of Grozny, teemed with injured from fighting of the past few days.


Russian troops, sent into the North Caucasus territory on Dec. 11 to end its bid for independence from the Russian Federation, have forced separatist rebels out of the towns. They are now trying to stop them from establishing mountain bases from which to wage a partisan war.


As well as Shatoi, a village formerly known as Sovietskoye which is set in the foothills, Russian troops kept up their battering of Chiri-Yurt and Duba-Yurt, also south of Grozny.


Black smoke rose from a cement factory in Chiri-Yurt which has been under constant attack by the Russians for about a week.


In Moscow on Thursday, the press minister of the Russian-installed Chechen government criticized the Kremlin for refusing to fund the re-establishment of the media in Chechnya.


"There is money for culture, sport, industry, transport, communications and housing but not media," Yavus Askhadov said at a news conference. "You are all old enough to realize that a decision to deny the Chechen people their right to honest information had to be made on a high level."


The resumption of heavy fighting follows the lapse on May 12 of a two-week Moscow-declared cease-fire which was repeatedly violated by both sides.


The Russian side quickly dismissed a rebel appeal Wednesday for peace negotiations as "insincere."


The Russians have also been focusing efforts in a so-far unsuccessful attempt to take the village of Serzhen-Yurt, which is also seen as a strategic gateway to the mountains.


Udugov said Thursday that Serzhen-Yurt was firmly in control of the Chechens.


(Reuters, AP)