Moscow, 29 February 2000 (RFE/RL) - The top Russian commander in Chechnya said today that Russian forces are in total control of the last major rebel stronghold in southern Chechnya. Russian servicemen in the town of Shatoi raised a flag on a television tower, one of the few structures left undamaged by weeks of air and artillery bombardment.
General Gennady Troshev said the fall of Shatoi marks the end of Russia's full-scale military offensive in the breakaway republic.
But Troshev said clashes with rebels in the southern mountains will continue. And he said Russian troops will need to perform repeated sweeps of Chechen settlements to make sure militants have not returned.
"We have no intention of leaving this place, and we will continue to perform our tasks," he said. "We will search all forests, gorges, mountains, plains, checking one, two, three, five times, whatever is needed -- all inhabited areas, executing our cleansing operation."
Despite Troshev's optimistic assessment, another Russian officer said fierce fighting continues around Shatoi. Captain Mikhail Komarov said he expects that rebels who escaped to nearby villages will probably unite again for a counter-offensive.