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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Grozny Rumbles Ahead of Yeltsin Visit

GROZNY -- One Russian serviceman was killed and four were wounded when rebels ambushed a troop column in the Chechen capital Grozny on Sunday, Interfax reported.

About 20 rebels attacked the convoy in Grozny's Zavodsky region at around midday, opening fire with automatic weapons and a grenade launcher before escaping in a car, it said. An armored vehicle was destroyed.

Three Russian servicemen were also wounded when an armored vehicle hit a mine in the same area of Grozny and several were injured when rebels attacked a military column near a rebel stronghold in western Chechnya, the agency said.

The attacks highlighted the problems facing Russian troops in Chechnya despite tighter security before a planned visit by President Boris Yeltsin.

Yeltsin said Saturday he would visit Chechnya this month to try to press a peace deal to end the fighting which started when he sent in troops to try to crush a separatist rebellion 17 months ago. "I will go to Chechnya myself -- of course I will not name the date -- to sit everybody around the negotiating table," Yeltsin said on a campaign trip to the Caspian port of Astrakhan.

Yeltsin says progress in ending a conflict that has killed more than 30,000 people is vital to his campaign to win re-election on June 16.

OMON elite police, entrenched at checkpoints on the main crossroads or driving through the streets of devastated Grozny, stepped up patrols in the city after his statement.

Itar-Tass said the pro-Moscow Chechen administration decided Sunday to hold elections to the local legislature on June 16 to coincide with the presidential poll.

There was no immediate rebel reaction. But the separatists who demand full independence for their region and who boycotted the vote for a head of the Chechen administration in December seemed certain to ignore the polls.

Yeltsin proposed a peace plan for Chechnya on March 31. The plan included a halt to military operations and an offer of indirect talks with rebel leader Dzhokhar Dudayev.

But Dudayev died last month in what is believed to have been a Russian rocket attack and was replaced by hardline separatist Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. Despite Yeltsin's ban, attacks on the rebels have continued under the guise of "special operations."

Interfax said Russian helicopters late Saturday rocketed the town of Urus-Martan some 20 kilometers southwest of Grozny for a third time in less than a week, injuring at least one person.

Itar-Tass quoted top Russian military commander in Chechnya, General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, as saying helicopters came under fire near the town, blockaded by troops for a four days, as they tried to check a report that a rebel group was on the move. Russian commanders denied responsibility for two similar attacks last week in which at least six civilians were killed.

Interfax also said Russian aircraft had launched attacks on the rebel base of Bamut, situated at the former Soviet missile base and a nearby village, where separatist rebels have been holding out ever since the conflict started in December 1994.

It also said that guerrillas attacked a Russian military column in the Bamut area Sunday morning, wounding several servicemen.