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Tikhomirov still Commands in Chechnya

Moscow, July 8 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's commander in Chechnya, has denied earlier reports he has been sacked by President Boris Yeltsin.

Quoted by Itar-Tass today, Vyacheslav Tikhomirov said he still remains in charge of Russian forces in the Caucasus republic.

Interfax had reported earlier today that Yeltsin had issued a decree removing Tikhomirov from his post and replacing him with Lt. General Constantin Kulikovsky, deputy commander of the North Caucasus military district.

Presidential spokesman Igor Ignatyev also refuted the interfax report today saying there is no such decree removing Tikhomirov, who reportedly is viewed as a hardliner by the Chechen separatists. Ignatiyev also accused interfax of spreading, what he called, false information.

Itar-tass said Tikhomirov returned to the Chechen capital Grozny today, after giving, what he called, a lengthy report on the 19-month war to the Security Council in Moscow.

Meanwhile, Russian checkpoints remain up in Chechnya today despite the passage of a peace accord deadline for dismantling them. Interfax quoted a Russian military official as saying 11 roadblocks had been removed but another 30 remain. The Russians accuse the Chechen separatists of violating last months accord signed in the Ingush capital Nazran. The Chechen separatists, accuse the Russians of increased attacks on Chechen villages in the last few days.

Today, Chechen separatist spokesman Movladi Udugov said the separatists are willing to meet newly-appointed security council secretary Alexander Lebed when he visits the region at a still undetermined date. But a spokesman for Lebed has said such a meeting could only take place if the head of the Moscow-backed government, Doku Zavgayev, requests it.