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Georgia: Russian Helicopters Reportedly Bomb Georgia

Tbilisi, 17 November 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin today said that Georgia's air space had been violated but declined to provide any explanation of an incident in which three Russian helicopter gunships were reported by Georgian officials to have dropped anti-personnel mines and fired machine guns and rockets in northern Georgia. It was not immediately clear whether the incident near the border with Chechnya was intentional or accidental. No casualties were reported. The Russian Defense Ministry refused to comment, but news agencies quoted military officials as saying that the Russian air force had destroyed Chechen bases five kilometers from the border with Chechnya.

Georgia's embassy in Moscow said in a note that Tbilisi wanted an investigation of the incident. Embassy official Ramaz Sichinava quoted the note as saying that any lack of investigation could suggest "an intentional move" to pull Georgia into the Chechen conflict.

Meanwhile, the Russian command and Chechen sources said the village of Bamut had been captured by Russian ground troops. The village was reported to have been virtually reduced to rubble by weeks of ceaseless pounding by artillery, tanks, warplanes, rockets, and strike helicopters. Chechen fighters were said to have pulled out into the surrounding mountains.

The Russian military continued air strikes and an artillery barrage on Grozny and the nearby town of Argun as well as on Serzhen-Yurt in the southeast and Urus-Martan, Achkoi-Martan and Gekhi in the west.

In a related development, Chechen mufti Akhmad-Khadja Kadyrov -- implicated in negotiating Russian entry into Gudermes last week and disavowed by Grozny leaders -- called during a visit to Moscow for peace talks with Russia.

Kadyrov met with Putin and Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyev and was to talk to Russian officials about restoration of electricity and gas supplies to parts of Chechnya under Moscow's control.