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Fighting In Chechnya As Grachev Visits

Grozny, March 14 (RFE/RL)- Russian news agencies say Russian forces in Chechnya today launched air and artillery attacks on the separatist stronghold of Bamut. Clashes were also reported in Grozny during an unscheduled visit to the Chechen capital by Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev.

Itar-Tass news agency quotes Shamil Burayev, a regional administrator in Achkhoi-Martan - a village in southwest Chechnya not far from Bamut - as saying he heard Russian airstrikes against Bamut and the neighboring villages of Orekhovo and Stary Achkoi. Burayev said helicopter gunships were flying over Achkhoi-Martan in the direction of the three other villages.

The Russian head commander in Chechnya, General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, told Itar-Tass that the air raids are n-o-t aimed directly at the village, but at "Chechen positions surrounding Bamut."

It is not clear how many Chechen fighters are in Bamut today. Russian officials in the nearby Russian republic of Ingushetia said all civilians have fled Bamut, fearing that Russian troops may soon storm the village.

Bamut is a former Soviet missile base and is believed to house the separatists' main ammunition and weapons depot.

Fighting also flared in Grozny during Grachev's visit. Russian officials said the visit was aimed at coordinating measures against separatist attacks like the one last week in Grozny that provoked some of the heaviest fighting since December 1994. According to Itar-Tass, Grachev started his unannounced visit yesterday and today met members of Chechnya's pro-Moscow government.

The agency reports that Chechen separatists fired on Russian troops from a 16-story building in the central Minutka square, killing two Russian soldiers and two contruction workers.