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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Grachev: Pull-Back To Follow Peace Plan

GROZNY -- While Russian troops pounded separatist positions in western Chechnya on Tuesday, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev promised an end to large-scale fighting as soon as President Boris Yeltsin unveils his peace plan for the rebel republic.

The president says he will disclose his plan for settling the nearly 16-month conflict in a nationwide television address Sunday.

As soon as that happens, "large-scale military activities in Chechnya will stop," Grachev said in Moscow, according to Interfax.

An official with the military's general staff said Russian troops will start a gradual withdrawal from the tiny, mainly Moslem southern republic immediately after Yeltsin's announcement, Interfax reported.

But Grachev stressed that "special operations" against small rebel units would likely continue.

"We can't speak of peace in the republic in the near future," he said. "Bandit attacks, robberies and terrorist acts in Chechnya will continue for a long time."

Russian leaders have repeatedly promised an end to hostilities, only to see the fighting pick up again.

Yeltsin is anxious to display a serious initiative to end the unpopular war before the June 16 elections, in which he is seeking a second term.

"We are going to try to reduce the military activity around Chechnya before the election," Yeltsin said Tuesday in Oslo, Norway, where he was on an official visit.

Ahead of Yeltsin's announcement, Russian troops have mounted an offensive against the rebels. On Tuesday, they attacked rebel positions in villages in western Chechnya, but separatist forces were putting up stiff resistance in the southern and eastern parts of the breakaway republic. choice between ousting the guerrillas themselves or facing a brutal Russian assault.

Officials of the Moscow-backed Chechen government say about a third of Chechnya's 365 towns and villages have signed accords so far promising to keep separatist fighters out. On Tuesday, about 500 rebels agreed to leave three besieged western villages without fighting, they said.

Yet Grachev said rebels in eastern and southern Chechnya were refusing to put down their weapons.

At least 20 villages in southern and southeastern parts of Chechnya on Tuesday refused to sign a peace pact with the pro-Moscow government, he said.

In the Chechen capital Grozny, Russian troops fearing a rebel assault tightened security around the city Monday and brought in reinforcements to guard key buildings. Police officials told Interfax they have launched an operation to clear Grozny of an estimated 500 rebel fighters hiding there, focusing on four districts and separate apartments throughout the city.

But the capital was relatively quiet, with only three clashes reported since Monday and most of the fighting taking place in the western part of Chechnya.

Two Russian servicemen were killed and another 17 wounded in fighting Monday, Interfax quoted federal forces as saying. There was no word on rebel losses.