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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rebel Envoys Begin Talks in Moscow

A prominent pro-Russian Chechen said rebel commanders began talks Wednesday in Moscow with Russian officials on ending the fighting.

Malik Saidullayev, a Moscow-based businessman who heads the pro-Russian State Council of Chechnya, said four commanders had flown to Moscow on Sunday.

"We are trying to bring the commanders onto the side of the State Council to avoid further bloodshed among the population, end the war and start a political dialogue," Saidullayev said.

Saidullayev said the guerrilla leaders at the talks were among the "best-known and most authoritative field commanders," but he did not name them.

A government spokesman, however, said four Chechens had arrived for talks on conditions for civilians in Chechnya, but that they did not constitute an official delegation. "Negotiations are held continually," spokesman Andrei Korotkov said. "As for these envoys, we don't know whom they represent."

Meanwhile, the Russian bureau of Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for Chechen warlords Shamil Basayev and Salman Raduyev and 78 other rebels Wednesday, saying they may try to flee to neighboring countries, Interfax reported.

Vladimir Gordiyenko, head of Russia's Interpol branch, said all the wanted men are now in southern parts of Chechnya beyond the front lines of Russia's army, but "some of them might turn up in Azerbaijan, Georgia or Turkey."

Street battles raged Wednesday in the Chechen capital as Russian troops pushed to capture the city center from rebels, the military said.

Federal forces were advancing on downtown Grozny from several directions after seizing new parts of the city, including a bridge across the Sunzha River, the military said.

Rebel commanders have described the bridge as "the most strategically important" site in Grozny.

Artillery and aircraft pounded rebel positions while Chechen militants were fighting back in small groups, relying heavily on snipers, the military said.

It also claimed that up to 100 rebel fighters were killed and 10 were taken prisoner Tuesday, while three federal soldiers were killed and five wounded. The claims could not be verified.

Lieutenant General Gennady Troshev, Russia's deputy chief commander in Chechnya, announced Wednesday the war was expected to be over by Feb. 26, though "nobody is giving the forces any firm deadlines," Interfax reported.

The military said some of the estimated 2,000 Chechen militants in Grozny were attempting to flee or surrender, but that claim could not be confirmed.

One Russian commander, Major General Vadim Timchenko, said the rebels had built masterly defenses in the capital.

"You have to give them their due," Timchenko was quoted as saying by Itar-Tass. "They have excellently prepared the city for defense in engineering terms, turning it into a many-layered fortress."