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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rebels: Missing General Our Prisoner

GUDERMES, Chechnya -- Russia claimed Friday to have the upper hand in fierce street-by-street fighting in the Chechen capital, but mystery still surrounded the fate of a Russian general who went missing in Grozny earlier this week.

Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev refused to speculate on what had happened to Major General Mikhail Malofeyev, saying only that he had been sent to Grozny "to intensify troop operations" and had "got into a complicated situation."

A Chechen commander claimed Friday that Malofeyev, who disappeared in the Chechen capital Tuesday, had been taken prisoner and was undergoing interrogation.

"Malofeyev is absolutely healthy and is answering investigators' questions," Baudi Bakuyev was quoted as saying by Interfax. He said the Russian military would soon receive a videotape proving the Chechens were holding the general.

Russian aircraft and artillery have been pounding Grozny day and night, and the military claimed Friday that ground troops were making steady if slow progress toward the center of Grozny. It claimed that 86 militants have been killed there over the past two days, while only one Russian soldier has been killed and five others wounded Thursday.

Still, the military reported continuing stiff rebel resistance in Grozny. The rebels are operating in small groups and trying to find cracks in the Russian blockade, it said. These groups frequently change positions and cut off Russian units from the main forces, it added.

Less was known about the fighting on the ground Friday than in the previous few days because the army kept Russian and Western reporters away from its positions in the city.

Russian television showed clips of soldiers firing in the crumbling ruins, with buildings licked by flame spewing black smoke, but provided no fresh reports from correspondents at the front in afternoon and early-evening newscasts.

The federal command said fighting was continuing for control over downtown Minutka Square and a strategic bridge over the Sunzha River. The Russians had previously claimed to have taken the bridge, and the military's acknowledgment Friday reflected that some areas of Grozny have changed hands several times in the pitched battles of recent days.

Fighting was also raging Friday near the mouth of the Argun Gorge in the steep southern mountains where thousands of rebels are believed to be sheltering.

The United Nations refugee agency on Friday reported a sharp increase in the number of people fleeing Chechnya. In a statement, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said 2,300 people had fled Chechnya for Ingushetia on Thursday, "the highest daily figure in many weeks."

But only "a handful" of people had left Grozny over the past few weeks, the agency said. It estimated that 20,000 civilians remained trapped in cellars in Grozny.

Meanwhile, acting President Vladimir Putin's new top aide for overseeing information from Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, made clear the government would take a tough line on media coverage.

"The media should take into account the challenges the nation is facing now," Yastrzhembsky was quoted by Kommersant newspaper as saying. "When the nation mobilizes its forces to solve some task, that imposes obligations on everyone, including the media."