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Russia starts Troop Withdrawal From Northern Chechnya

Moscow, April 15 (RFE/RL) - Russia says it began a gradual withdrawal of its troops from Chechnya today, in line with a peace plan proposed last month by President Boris Yeltsin.

Our Moscow correspondent quotes the Russian Defense Ministry as saying Russian forces started withdrawing from the village of Kargalinskaya, some 90 kms northeast of the Chechen capital, Grozny. The ministry said Russian troops are moving to the neighboring Caucasus republic of Dagestan.

The start of the operation was monitored by Yeltsin's National Security Advisor Yuri Baturin and by the chief commander of Russian troops in Chechnya, Lt.Gen Vyacheslav Tikhomirov. The Russian ORT television channel showed pictures of the withdrawal.

Tikhomirov said yesterday that a three-staged partial pullout would be made over the rest of this year. However, he also warned that the withdrawal could be suspended if ther situation deteriorates. Tikhomirov has said "special operations" will continue against Chechen separatists. The Agence France Press news agency says Russian warplanes reportedly targetted a number of villages surrounding Vedeno in southeastern Chechnya today, and Itar-Tass says Russian forces came under fire overnight in the villages of Bamut, Orekhovo, Stary-Achkhoy, Tsa-Vedeno and Goyskoye.