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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechen Rebel Fighters Withdraw From Dagestan


MAKHACHKALA, Southern Russia f Russian troops reclaimed control of all mountain villages that had been seized by Islamic militants in Dagestan, and most of the rebels fled to the breakaway territory of Chechnya, the military said Wednesday.

But Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said it was too early for complacency, even though Russia's worst security crisis since the 1994-96 Chechen war appeared to be over.

"I would say the worst [of the problem] in the Botlikh district [of Dagestan] has already passed," he said in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, where he was attending a summit with President Boris Yeltsin. "But there is a danger that in moving to partisan actions they will try to carry out terrorist acts in the region."

Guerrillas in Chechnya said Wednesday that planes had bombed the breakaway Russian region.

Fighters at guerrilla camps in the Vedeno gorge reached by radio from the capital, Grozny, said planes had launched 14 strikes in the gorge, a major route from Dagestan. The Chechens said they believed the planes were Russian. They said windows were shattered and roofs blown off of buildings in nearby villages.

Interfax said its correspondent was about 15 kilometers from the bombing and had seen explosions.

Defense Ministry spokesmen could not immediately be reached.

A spokesman for Interior Ministry troops in Dagestan, Yevgeny Ryabtsev, said earlier Wednesday that the rebels were surrounded, cut off from supply and retreat routes, and would be wiped out by Russian helicopter gunships.

The Russians needed more than two weeks of daily bombing raids and artillery attacks to dislodge the rebels, who captured about a half-dozen villages when they invaded a remote corner of the Caucasus Mountains on Aug. 7.

The militants were estimated to number as many as 2,000, but they were heavily outgunned by Russian forces, believed to total several thousand.

Rebel leader Shamil Basayev appeared on Chechen television and claimed the withdrawal from Dagestan was planned, and would be followed by guerrilla attacks throughout the region.

"There are no Islamic troops left on the territory of Dagestan,'' he said. "The first stage of our operation has been successfully completed and now we are getting ready for the second stage.''

Russian military commanders said 59 government troops were killed in the conflict and 210 wounded. Rebel leaders put their death toll at 37, with 68 wounded. Each side claimed that the other lost about 1,000 men.

The rebels, many belonging to the fundamentalist Wahhabite sect, were seeking to establish an independent Islamic state in southern Russia.

The Defense Ministry said the militants had been completely driven from four villages by Tuesday night, and government troops swept through Wednesday to clear out any remaining rebels.

However, the 11,000 residents who fled the conflict zone weren't allowed to return home because the rebels heavily mined the villages before leaving.

Mine-clearing specialists, working with trained dogs, searched for hidden explosives. Two Russian trucks and an armored personnel carrier were destroyed by the mines; no one was hurt.

Retreating rebels left scores of bodies of their comrades in the villages, and the bodies and approaches to them were heavily mined, Ryabtsev said.

Federal Security Service chief Nikolai Patrushev, who arrived in Dagestan on Wednesday evening, said he was under orders from the government "to have the bandit groups destroyed ? and to guarantee stability in this republic of the Russian Federation.''