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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fighting Fierce as Lebed Trip Forecast

National security adviser Alexander Lebed is expected to make a much anticipated trip to Chechnya on Saturday, President Ruslan Aushev of the neighboring republic of Ingushetia said in an interview in Moscow on Thursday.


The announcement came amid reports of continued fierce fighting in Chechnya and claims by Russian military authorities that the bodies of 10 Russian prisoners of war had been found executed in a Chechen village.


Lebed is likely to spend two or three days in Chechnya, and will meet with the leader of the pro-Moscow government in Grozny, Doku Zavgayev, as well as commanders of the Russian forces in Chechnya, Interfax reported.


He may meet with members of the Chechen separatists but it was as yet uncertain, Interfax said, quoting a Chechen government source. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has been working to arrange a meeting between Lebed and Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev for a couple of weeks. Yandarbiyev declared his readiness to meet Lebed, but Lebed had not yet accepted the proposal, the OSCE said last week.


Aushev, a key power broker in the Caucasus region who has consistently opposed a military solution to the Chechen conflict, said he expected to meet with Lebed on Thursday or Friday in Moscow but gave no further details.


Lebed, appointed national security chief after placing third in the first round of presidential elections, has several times declared his intention to travel to Chechnya, following up on his campaign promises to tackle the unpopular war.


But although Lebed campaigned on a platform of stopping the war, his views seem to have changed with President Boris Yeltsin's policy. For the past 10 days, Moscow has breached a cease-fire signed before the polls, unleashing air and artillery attacks on Chechen villages.


The Chechen leadership decided Thursday to "refrain from a full-scale response to the Russian military actions," at a meeting chaired by Yandarbiyev and attended by top commanders.


The separatists "will continue to observe the Kremlin and Nazran agreements, but it reserves the right to respond to any armed provocation by the Russian occupation forces," chief Chechen spokesman Movladi Udugov told Reuters by telephone.


A spokesman for the Russian military command in Chechnya, Igor Melnikov, said Russian forces found the bodies of the 10 prisoners who had been tortured and then executed by Chechen rebels, near the village of Khatuni in the southern mountains, Itar-Tass reported.


Melnikov said the four officers and six soldiers were killed with shots to the back of the head after torture. They apparently were executed during last week's Russian onslaught on Khatuni and neighboring Makhkety.


There was no independent confirmation of the story although the Chechen rebels had threatened to execute their Russian prisoners after the Russian commander in Chechnya, Lieutenant General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, issued an ultimatum last week demanding all prisoners be handed over immediately.


The incident was the latest in a series of recent atrocities that both sides have accused each other of committing. Two Russian soldiers were killed and 14 wounded in rebel attacks since midday Wednesday, the Russian command said.


Udugov said Russian forces launched new air strikes on their positions in southern Chechnya and called three days of mourning for the victims of recent Russian attacks.