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Russian Forces Launch Air Raids In Chechnya

Outside Shalazhi, Russia, April 3 (RFE/RL) - Russian forces are reported to have launched air strikes today against a village in southwest Chechnya.

Eeyewitnesses say bombs crashed into houses in the village of Shalazhi, about 50 km southwest of the regional capital, Grozny.

One witness, fleeing the area, said about 20 houses had been destroyed. Dozens of people are said to have been injured.

The report came despite statements by Russian commanders in Chechnya that they are observing a unilateral ceasefire which was supposed to have come into effect at midnight on Sunday.

Our correspondent quotes the Russian air force command as denying the report of air raids in Shalazhi. In other developments, Russian defence ministry officials (unnamed) told our correspondent that fighting was continuing in southeast Chechnya, near the mountain rebel strongholds of Benoi and Kurchaloi. There are no reports of casualties.

The Russian command says Chechen fighters attacked Russian troops near the village of Orekhovo, in southwest Chechnya. Last Monday Russian troops took control of the village, but last night Chechens tried to regain it.

Russian Defence Minister Pavel Grachev said today that Russian troops are observing a ceasefire ordered last Sunday by President Boris Yeltsin. Grachev said the troops will respond to Chechen attacks.

Grachev also said that Russian troops withdrawal would begin at the end of April, but two Russian brigades would be deployed in Northern outskirts of Grozny and in the village of Shali, 40 km Southeast of the capital.

Separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev has rejected the recent Yeltsin peace initiative.

Speaking on Chechen television last night, Dudayev reiterated his position, saying peace talks could not go ahead until every last russian soldier had been withdrawn form Chechnya.