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Russia: Defense Minister Outlines Final Chechen Offensive

Moscow, 9 February 2000 (RFE/RL) - Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev today said the army will launch its final offensive against Chechen guerrillas this week. He said the push by airborne troops and marines to destroy up to 7,000 guerrillas in Chechnya's mountainous south would begin in two days--after Russian forces rested. Earlier today, ITAR-TASS quoted the Russian army chief in Chechnya, General Viktor Kazantsev, as saying that his troops had already begun the final phase of their mission.

Fighting today centered around the Argun and Vedeno gorges leading to guerrilla mountain bases with heavy bombing by Russian planes. The Russians are trying to prevent around 3,000 guerrillas who retreated from the Chechen capital, Grozny, from reaching the mountains.

ITAR-TASS reported small groups of guerrillas attacked Russian positions overnight but the Russian military reported no casualties in the fights. Russian Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said that 10,000 civilians remained in Grozny and one-third of them needed medical aid.