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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Rewards 'Heroes'

President-elect Vladimir Putin pinned "Hero of Russia" stars Tuesday to the chests of soldiers who have served in the continuing campaign to crush rebels in Chechnya.

Russian news reports said fighting took place in areas the federal troops have long said are under their control and warplanes bombed targets in rebel-held southern mountains.

Putin told Interior Ministry troops Monday they would guarantee the restoration of "peaceful life" in Chechnya, seen as a further pledge to fight on. During a Kremlin ceremony Tuesday he awarded 14 servicemen the "Hero of Russia" medal - the country's highest distinction.

The rebel web site said a group of rebels had moved from the eastern village Nozhai-Yurt to nearby Tsentoroi where they ran into a detachment of Russian soldiers. The web site said the two sides fought a four-hour battle in which 20 Russians were killed.

Itar-Tass quoted the military as saying 100 guerrillas died in fighting near Tsentoroi. Each side generally exaggerates the other's losses.

Jets and helicopters flew 120 sorties on Monday, far more than usual, the military headquarters said Tuesday.

The raids also targeted several other settlements in the southern mountains, including Galaity, located on a road near the border with Dagestan. Federal commanders said that rebels remaining in southern Chechnya were trying to flee to Dagestan. The attack on Galaity looked like it was directed at cutting off escape routes.

Still, rebels elsewhere defied claims that they were on the run, attacking federally controlled areas in Chechnya's north. Officers said barely a night has gone by recently without rebel ambushes on Russian posts.

Federal forces were fighting rebels Tuesday near the town of Argun, just east of Grozny.

Interfax said a top Chechen field commander, Khamzat Batayev, had been killed in the village of Komsomolskoye at the mouth of the Argun Gorge.