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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Town Besieged, Raduyev Said Injured

In Chechnya, Russian forces pounded the town of Sernovodsk on Tuesday for the third day, and rebel leader Salman Raduyev was reported seriously wounded in an attack by unidentified gunmen.

Meanwhile, Moscow officials prepared for Thursday's Security Council meeting at which President Boris Yeltsin is expected to decide on a plan to resolve the conflict in the breakaway republic.

Some 16,000 refugees, among them dozens of wounded, have fled Sernovodsk since Russian troops began their siege Sunday morning, escaping into the neighboring republic of Ingushetia, said local officials. The mass exodus of civilians, many already refugees from Grozny, is one of the largest since the early days of the war.

Television reports on independent NTV showed smoke rising from burning houses after Russian helicopter gunships attacked the town Tuesday.

Ingush officials have complained they have been refused access to the town. United Nations officials and International Red Cross workers have also been refused entry by Russian forces, according to media reports.

Refugees are living in tents pitched by aid agencies and in a local school and sanitarium in Ordzhonikidzevskaya, just over the border in Ingushetia.

Casualty figures have been difficult to obtain, but a Russian Interior Ministry spokesman said 20 OMON special police were wounded in Sernovodsk, Interfax reported. Among the civilian population losses were higher, but no exact figures are available. Boris Agapov, vice president of the Ingush republic, told NTV just that "many" had been killed.

In Moscow, Yeltsin appointed presidential adviser Emil Pain to head a new working group to map out concrete steps for a settlement of the Chechen conflict, presidential spokesman Sergei Medvedev said Tuesday. Pain is the author of one of the peace plans which will be discussed at the Security Council meeting.

Without the presence of Oleg Lobov, the Security Council secretary, who, according to a source close to him underwent a heart bypass last Tuesday, those advocating a military solution may exert more influence, said Pavel Felgenhauer, military correspondent for Segodnya.

Lobov has called for a program of economic aid as a solution to the conflict. "The Russian military prefer to turn the screw and see how the Chechens react," Felgenhauer said, adding that they appeared to want to force Dudayev to accept a peace deal.

While the military is preparing for a spring offensive ahead of any decision, their hope is that they can force Dudayev to the negotiation table before the presidential elections in June, Felgenhauer said. He added that the policy could easily backfire and provoke another terrorist raid in Russia.

Chechen rebel Raduyev, who headed the January hostage raid in Dagestan, was seriously wounded Sunday by unidentified gunmen, Interfax reported Tuesday, quoting a source in the Moscow-installed government in Grozny.

Raduyev is in the hospital in Urus Martan, a town some 35 kilometers southwest of the capital, with a head injury from a rocket-propelled grenade attack that killed another fighter, Umar Khaskhanov, who was with him.

Raduyev, 28, who is married to Dudayev's niece, took center stage when his band of men seized some 3,000 hostages in the Dagestan town of Kizlyar on Jan. 9. His performance came under criticism from top Chechen commanders, and Dudayev said afterwards that Raduyev would be punished for overstepping orders and taking civilians hostages. But in an apparent turnaround Dudayev decorated Raduyev with a medal last week, Interfax reported.