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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Military Bombards Southern Chechnya

Military columns, with helicopter gunships and jets buzzing overhead, were on the move across Chechnya on Monday, the military said, as Moscow struggled to assert its control over the republic.

Aircraft pummeled suspected rebel positions in the Itum-Kale and Vedeno regions of southern Chechnya, and heavy artillery bombarded the thick forests of the southeastern Nozhai-Yurt district, near the border with Dagestan, said a Chechen government official in the northern town of Gudermes.

The military command said that fighter jets and helicopter gunships increased the number of combat missions over the weekend, flying more than 100 missions.

Federal forces have also stepped up security on the ground in the aftermath of the July 2 series of truck bombings that killed at least 33 servicemen and wounded scores more.

Two smaller bombs killed eight people Sunday in two regions close to Chechnya.

At least six people were killed and 16 were wounded when a homemade bomb exploded at an outdoor market in Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, where more than 50 people died in a bombing last year, police said.

The explosive device was placed under a car parked near the entrance of the market, Interior Ministry officials said. Vladikavkaz, about 50 kilometers from the Chechen border, is a regular stopping point for troops involved in the conflict.

Authorities said there was no clear indication the bomb was connected with Chechnya.

The second explosion, in a store in Rostov-on-Don, killed two people and wounded two others. Itar-Tass, quoting witnesses, said a worker in the Yerevan store found a handbag in the store's back yard and took it inside. He found a vanity case inside the handbag and pulled what he thought was an opening ring, which turned out to be the pin of a hand grenade.

No motive for placing the grenade in the yard was known.

Rostov, about 500 kilometers northwest of Chechnya, is another stopping point for the military and the headquarters of the new presidential envoy in the North Caucasus, Viktor Kazantsev.

Troops nominally control most of Chechnya, but they remain vulnerable to sniping, bombings and hit-and-run attacks in lowland areas they captured months ago.

The Kremlin's top spokesman on Chechnya said Monday that a recent statement by Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov denouncing several Chechen officials who advocated siding with the Kremlin-backed Chechen leadership showed how split the rebels had become.

According to Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Maskhadov made a television address in which he criticized several former deputies of the now-defunct Chechen parliament, who said they would be willing to work with Mufti Akhmad Kadyrov. The mufti was recently installed by the Kremlin to lead Chechnya.

"Maskhadov has clearly gotten nervous,'' Yastrzhembsky said. "He understands that if enough people who served in the parliament ? now support Kadyrov, it will be a political blow."

On Monday, the government released a collection of documents that it said details how Chechen gangs traded hostages, terrorized civilians and committed atrocities against federal troops during and after the first war.

One of the documents is said to be a handwritten contract between two Chechen groups to take several hostages and split the ransom, while another is an autopsy report of a soldier, saying his body was mutilated after he was killed in battle.

The collection of materials, called the "White Paper,'' further proved that Russia was obligated to launch its latest military campaign in Chechnya, Yastrzhembsky said.

Also Monday, the government announced that it has changed the members of its commission for "normalization" of Chechnya. As head of the commission, Viktor Khristenko, a deputy prime minister with responsibility over the energysector, replaced Nikolai Koshman, the former head of the Kremlin-backed administration in Chechnya.

Yevgeny Bushmin, a deputy finance minister, replaced Alexei Kudrin, the finance minister who was a deputy minister when he was appointed to the commission earlier this year.