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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russians Target Bamut as Rebels Move

GROZNY -- Russian warplanes blasted a last major rebel stronghold in western Chechnya on Tuesday amid reports most separatist fighters were moving from the devastated region to eastern Chechnya.


The latest airstrike and intense artillery shelling targeted the heights around the destroyed village of Bamut, where more than 100 fighters were said to be holed up in mountainous terrain, Interfax reported.


Bamut, 60 kilometers southwest of Grozny, is a former Soviet missile base and was believed to house the rebels' main ammunition and weapons depots.


Now it has been reduced to ruins by relentless Russian firepower that has leveled village after village in the western part of the separatist republic. The deputy prime minister of the Russian-backed Chechen administration, Vakha Sagayev, said Russian forces expected to wrap up their operations in Bamut by the end of the week.


Faced with the loss of yet another stronghold, Chechen forces are transferring the bulk of their units to eastern Chechnya and are building new fortifications there, a Russian army spokesman told Interfax.


In a related report, Interfax quoted an unidentified rebel source as saying the separatists had issued an order last week to stop resistance along the front line and shift the focus to hit-and-run attacks on federal forces from the rear.


Despite being hammered daily by Russian planes and shells, there is no evidence the outmanned rebels are losing their will to fight or that Moscow's forces are close to snuffing out the opposition. After 17 months of fighting that have killed more than 30,000 people, several thousand rebel fighters remain active.


Rebels using submachine guns have launched a dozen attacks on Russian forces in the capital Grozny alone since Monday, killing two Russian soldiers and wounding three, Interfax said. Clashes also were reported Tuesday elsewhere in the breakaway republic.


Russian forces also have been targeting eastern Chechnya this week, reportedly launching air attacks on the villages of Tsentoroi in the southeast and Alleroi in the east.


The situation remained tense in the area around Gudermes, Chechnya's second biggest city, where Russian forces have been subjected to daily rebel fire.


In Grozny, Russian army engineers uncovered six kilograms of explosives in the basement of a government building housing the offices of Russian-backed Chechen leader Doku Zavgayev, Interfax said. Russian agencies said it was taken away and defused.


President Boris Yeltsin said this week he still hopes to visit Chechnya, but his aides and others are warning it would be too risky. An unidentified rebel spokesman told Interfax on Tuesday that military chief Aslan Maskhadov has ordered that no terrorist act be carried out against Yeltsin. Guerrilla commander Shamil Basayev said last week, however, that rebels would try to ensure that Yeltsin "never leaves this place."