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Russia: Army Offensive Aims To Kill Dagestan Militants

Moscow, 17 August 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russia's military forces engaged Islamic militants in Dagestan today for the 11th straight day. Russian jets and helicopters bombed a village held by militants and Russian airborne troops began a bid to take strategic heights in the area. The Russian army has taken over the campaign, but reports say Interior Ministry troops will still be involved. Interfax news agency quotes President Boris Yeltsin as saying he wants the defense ministry led by Marshal Igor Sergeyev to play the major role in crushing the militants.

A defense ministry spokesman today announced the appointment of the commander of the North Caucasus military district, Viktor Kazantsev, to lead the troops. The spokesman quoted Kazantsev as saying a new offensive is about to start, with the emphasis on killing the militants rather than forcing them from Dagestan.

The chief of the general staff Anatoly Kvashnin told reporters in Moscow the uprising would be over this week but that stabilizing the situation could require several months.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy said in a statement that Israel will exchange intelligence information with Russia to help it fight Islamic militants. A spokeswoman said Levy told his ministry to prepare a plan for intelligence cooperation between the two countries. The announcement followed talks between Levy and Russian ambassador Mikhail Bogdanov.

The Russian Defense Ministry, meanwhile, has denied a statement by Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov that Russian armored vehicles had entered Chechnya.

The militants under the command of former acting Chechen prime minister Shamil Basayev crossed into Dagestan from neighboring Chechnya 11 days ago and occupied several villages in the mountainous Botlikh district. The UN High Commisioner For Refugees announced today that nearly 10,000 people have fled the fighting.