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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rebels Respond With Fresh Attacks

APIraqi President Saddam Hussein speaking with Akhmad Kadyrov, the Moscow-backed Chechen leader, in Baghdad last week.
Rebels said they had seized control of towns and major roads in Chechnya over the weekend in their first coordinated attacks since President Vladimir Putin's call for disarmament and talks.

Russian officials acknowledged widespread clashes Saturday and a number of deaths. But accounts of the fighting and casualties differed widely.

Putin issued his appeal last Monday, giving the rebels 72 hours to start discussing disarmament with Moscow.

Russian officials acknowledged contacts with rebels had been made, but reports about the talks were contradictory and had little effect on the standoff.

"We are ready for real dialogue and a peaceful solution to this conflict," Akhmad Zakayev, a member of Chechnya's rebel government appointed to negotiations by rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, said on NTV television Saturday. He said he had contacted delegates of Putin's envoy Viktor Kazantsev about arranging a time and place for talks.

After the deadline expired late Thursday, Kazantsev said a Maskhadov representative had approached his delegation. Kazantsev said there would be further discussions with Maskhadov envoys but would not say when. Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky praised Zakayev as a "quite acceptable and reasonable" negotiating partner.

Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the Kremlin-appointed Chechen administration, said Saturday that Putin's offer was not an invitation to negotiate peace.

"There should be contacts with guerrilla representatives, but only on how and where rebels will hand over their weapons," Kadyrov said in Moscow, where he returned Friday after a tour of Iraq and Jordan. Kadyrov said there could be no dialogue with Maskhadov because "he has taken too much blood," Interfax reported.

While Maskhadov welcomed Putin's offer last week, rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov, speaking by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location, quoted a senior commander as saying guerrilla commander Shamil Basayev had described the fresh attacks as prompted by Putin's ultimatum.

Interfax reported that rebels had advanced on Shali, opening fire on the military commandant's office, administrative building and police headquarters and setting fire to the courthouse.

Agencies reported a four-hour battle at a police station in Kurchaloi, with three officers killed and 14 wounded. An administrative building in nearby Serzhen-Yurt was also set on fire.

A spokeswoman for Yastrzhembsky said groups of about 10 fighters had attacked Shali and Kurchaloi. Casualties were being checked. Udugov said he believed more than 2,000 fighters were involved and that up to 250 servicemen had been killed.

Kommersant reported Saturday that rebels had seized a private television studio in the town of Avtury and, holding its owner at gunpoint, forced him to air a propaganda film on a "worldwide anti-Moslem conspiracy." The broadcast, which the report said aired late Thursday in the Shali district, lasted just over an hour and interrupted programming on the frequency occupied by NTV. The film showed footage of violent conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Bosnia and Chechnya, accompanied by narration about attempts to annihilate devout Moslems the world over. The report said federal authorities are investigating.

(Reuters, AP, MT)