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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Casualties High in Russian Offensive


Street fighting was raging in the rebel stronghold of Novogroznensky on Tuesday as Russian forces tried to wipe out remaining pockets of guerrilla resistance, military officials said.

As many as 170 rebels and about 30 federal soldiers were killed in the fighting as of Tuesday morning, said the Russian commander in Chechnya, General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov.

Tikhomirov told reporters in Grozny that federal forces hoped to take complete control of Novogroznensky within a day or two, Itar-Tass said.

Russian troops have seized the center of the village and were fighting in the streets against the rebels, who were holed up in apartments. Sappers were defusing mines and explosive devices planted by the rebels, the report said.

Security forces are keeping journalists well away from the settlement, some 60 kilometers east of Grozny.

But a BBC correspondent who said he had slipped through the Russian cordon reported Tuesday morning from a village near Novogroznensky that the stronghold had been bombed by jets Monday night. The correspondent counted five sorties flown by high-flying jets, followed by ear-splitting explosions.

The death toll reported by Tikhomirov suggested a fierce battle that could be compared to some of the worst days of the Russian siege of Grozny or the fighting in Chechnya's second-largest town of Gudermes late last year. Both towns have been largely destroyed.

Russian forces began moving on Novogroznensky about a week ago, trying to press local leaders into signing a peace accord and driving guerrillas out. When the agreement failed, the Russians brought in reinforcements.

Tikhomirov said Russian authorities tried to persuade the rebels to surrender Tuesday, but to no avail.

Russian reports have said up to 1,000 rebels are in the village and have built fortifications and underground command sites. Justifying Tuesday's head-on attack, a senior Russian commander told Interfax that Novogroznensky served as a base for preparing terrorist attacks.

He said rebel field commander Shamil Basayev, who led a hostage-taking raid on a southern Russian town last summer, formed two terrorist groups there, one of which planned to attack the Russian city of Astrakhan.

Russian military officials said civilians had been allowed to leave the village but that some men were detained on suspicion of being guerrilla fighters. It was not clear whether all civilians had left.

The BBC correspondent reported he had visited hospitals in the region around Novogroznensky on Monday and counted about 150 civilians with injuries, many of them children who had injured by shrapnel and sniper-fire.

One Chechen man recalled the generals had said before launching an all-out assault on Chechen rebels in Pervomaiskoye last month that all the civilian hostages were dead. It turned out very few had died, though some were killed under Russian fire. "The soldiers are saying, just like at Pervomaiskoye, that there are no civilians left in Novogroznensky. But I alone have 15 relatives sitting there in the cellars," Aslambek Timergireyev, 47, told Itar-Tass in Grozny.

On Tuesday, President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree appointing Nikolai Fedosov the new head of the Russian administration in Chechnya, at the same time ordering a reorganization to bring local government under control of the Russian government, Itar-Tass reported.

Quoting the presidential press service, Itar-Tass said Fedosov would work with the Chechen government but assume control of all federal organs and enterprises and institutions involved in rebuilding the Chechen economy.

In another development Tuesday, law enforcement sources told Interfax that a former ally of Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev had escaped from a correctional labor colony in the Irkutsk region.

The sources said the prisoner, who they named only as Dzhabrailov, 32, had been a leader of the Chechen presidential guard before being imprisoned in 1994 for a 14-year term on charges of murder and banditry. According to preliminary reports, Dzhabrailov and a prisoner from Ingushetia escaped Thursday with the assistance of colony personnel.