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Russian Duma Deputies To Travel To Chechnya

Moscow, March 12 (RFE/RL) -- A group of Russian Duma deputies will leave Moscow for Chechnya today, with the intention of reaching the village of Bamut by this evening or early tomorrow morning.

The group is being led by Deputy Yuli Rybakov. Rybakov says the aim of the visit will be to "avert senseless bloodshed and save the lives of Russian prisoners-of-war."

Earlier today, Itar-Tass quoted regional administrator said Khachukaev, who said the entire population of Bamut had left the settlement, fearing a Russian attack. Bamut is 38 km southwest of the Chechen capital Grozny. The Moscow-backed Chechen government in Grozny says separatists are holding Russian hostages in Bamut, who it says were seized during fighting in Grozny last week. Khachukaev denied the allegation.

But Russian human rights activist Sergei Kovalev said in Moscow today that separatists will kill some 90 Russian hostages they are holding if Bamut is stormed.

Meanwhile, scattered gun battles between Russian forces and separatist fighters continue in some neighborhoods of the Chechen capital Grozny.

Russian federal forces reported nine soldiers and policemen killed in Grozny overnight. Eleven soldiers were reported injured.

President Boris Yeltsin's Security Council is expected to hold a special session on the Chechen crisis this week. A senior Yeltsin's staffer told our correspondent that the Security Council will meet this Thursday or Friday.