Moscow, 23 August 1999 (RFE/RL) - A spokesman for Islamic militants fighting in Dagestan says they have been withdrawn from the main battle zone there. The spokesman said in the Chechen capital of Grozny today that the militants' commander, Shamil Basayev, had ordered redeployment of his forces out of the Botlikh district to begin a new phase of the uprising.
The spokesman said the order had been carried out successfully and the Russian forces are unaware that all the fighters have left.
The militants have held several villages in the Botlikh district since entering Dagestan from Chechnya earlier this month. Russian forces have been attacking the rebel positions in several villages using artillery and attack helicopters.
A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman in Dagestan's capital Makhachkala denied the militants' claim. He said the Russian forces still have about 100 Islamic militant fighters surrounded in the village of Tando.