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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Grachev Talks Peace, Russians Attack Village

Defense Minister Pavel Grachev flew to Chechnya on Monday bringing talk of peace, while Russian forces continued to attack a village packed full of refugees in the western part of the republic.

"I stand primarily for a peaceful resolution of the Chechen conflict," Grachev said, arriving in the Chechen capital, Grozny, as part of an inspection tour of troops in the North Caucasus district, Interfax reported.

He repeated comments made Saturday that he was ready to meet with separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev or his field commanders. "I am ready to go any place for such meetings if a proposal to that effect comes in," he said.

Grachev said his presence in Chechnya did not herald an increase in military activity in the territory, since there remained "few large groups of Chechen fighters in the republic."

But fierce fighting continued for the second day in Sernovodosk, a resort town of 13,000 people and up to 15,000 refugees, located on the main road close to the Ingush-Chechen border.

Heavy fighting erupted Sunday when Russian forces attempted to storm the town but were caught in a rebel ambush. Russian military officials said about 200 rebels fighters were firing from the school and a sanitorium. They retaliated with artillery, raining shells onto the town all day Sunday.

"There are dead and wounded on both sides, the number of which is not yet possible to determine," commander of Russian forces in Chechnya Lieutenant General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov told Itar-Tass on Sunday.

More than 5,500 refugees, among them 27 wounded, had streamed out of Sernovodsk into Ingushetia by Monday afternoon, the head of the regional Ingush administration Ruslan Sychoyev told Interfax.

Many had sought shelter in the school and the house of culture in the Ingush village of Sleptsovskaya across the border, Sychoyev said. The wounded were taken to the regional hospital, where three of them died, he added.

The shelling was reported to have fallen silent by Monday midday, but Itar-Tass reported that troops prevented journalists from entering the town.

Grachev meanwhile met with the Moscow-installed government in Grozny and senior Russian military and security officers to work out what further action federal troops should take.

In Moscow, Chechnya was dominating President Boris Yeltsin's meetings Monday, ahead of a Security Council meeting this week, presidential press spokesman Sergei Medvedev told Itar-Tass.The Security Council will examine seven different plans for solving the Chechen conflict, in particular suggestions proposed by two commissions headed respectively by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and presidential adviser Emil Pain.

Andrei Piontkowsky of the Moscow Center for Strategic Studies said the Russian leadership appeared already to have decided on its policy in Chechnya.

"It is clear since Pervomaiskoye that while they talk of seven variants they are using very strong force to terrorize the people in Chechnya," Piontkowsky said, adding Russian military tactics since November have been to destroy village after village across the territory. "They have chosen the most cruel variant," he said.

The weekly Obshchaya Gazeta, quoting an unnamed source in the Defense Ministry, reported Friday that military units based in Chechnya received orders two weeks ago to begin new, large-scale attacks on rebel-held territory.

"The strategy of the Russian army in the immediate future is to push Dudayev's fighters higher into the mountains and wipe them out as far as possible," the source said.

?Unidentified attackers blew up a gas pipeline in eastern Chechnya for the second time in nine days, Interfax reported. The pipeline, carrying gas from Azerbaijan to the Russian city of Stavropol was blown up near the village of Shelkovskaya, the Interior Ministry in Chechnya said.