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Azerbaijan: Security Increased Along Russia's Dagestani Border

Baku, 10 August 1999 (RFE/RL) - Azerbaijan has stepped up security measures along its border with the turbulent region of Dagestan, where Russian forces are battling Islamic rebels for a fourth day. Azerbaijan's State Security Ministry spokesman, Araz Gurbanov, says that although the border remains open, guards are checking travelers' documents more carefully and watching out for any disturbances. Hundreds of insurgents reportedly crossed into Dagestan from Chechnya over the weekend and seized control of several villages. The rebels are thought to be members of an Islamic fundamentalist sect. The fighting is some of the worst seen in the area since Chechen separatists achieved effective independence from Moscow in 1996 after a two-year war.

Russia's new acting Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, has said that the situation in Dagestan can be "normalized" within two weeks. Speaking to reporters in the Kremlin after meeting with President Boris Yeltsin, Putin said that a two-week period of bringing order to the troubled area will followed by "a period of stabilization of local authority." He added that full stabilization of authority in Dagestan will take more time.

In a separate interview with the daily "Komersant," published today, Putin said he did not rule out the possibility that "some special regime could be introduced in territories bordering Chechnya." He said many Russian regional governors had asked for such a regime. But Putin said he saw no reason for introducing a general state of emergency throughout Russia.

In Dagestan today, a recently created unofficial Dagestani Islamic Council declared an independent Islamic state in areas under guerrilla control. The declaration was released in Chechnya's capital Grozny. The council is known to have Chechen support.

In Moscow, a high Muslim official, Damir Gizatullin, deputy chairman of the Religious Board of Muslims in European Russia, called the creation of an Islamic entity in Dagestan "utterly unreal, senseless (and) unconstitutional."