Moscow, 31 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russian officials and news reports today said federal troops had killed 73 armed separatists and taken another 20 prisoner in a major operation in the southern breakaway republic of Chechnya. President Vladimir Putin's aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii said the operation was carried out yesterday, some 30 kilometers south of the Chechen capital Grozny.
The Kremlin claims that Ruslan Chilaev, a field commander believed to rank sixth in the separatist hierarchy, is among the dead.
There was no conformation from separatist sources.
Meanwhile, Russia's Interfax news agency reported that two servicemen who were being held prisoner by Chechen separatists in a neighboring republic were freed today.