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Yeltsin Says That Military Operation In Chechnya Continue

Moscow, April 17 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin said today that although military operations in Chechnya have been suspended, the fight against Chechen fighters will continue.

The Itar-Tass news agency quoted Yeltsin as saying that Chechnya is "a centre of international terrorism." Yeltsin is on a pre-election trip to the Southern Russian city of Budennovsk, scene of a mass hostage-taking by Chechen fighters last June.

At a wreath-laying ceremony at a monument to the 130 people killed in the hostage-taking, Yeltsin said current Russian attacks on Chechen separatist positions are "no war as such, with the use of warplanes and artillery." And Yeltsin said separatist fighters are holding only three areas in Southern Chechnya.

But Chechen separatist spokesman Mavladi Udugov told RFE/RL that "the Russian army controls only the parts of the Chechen territory in which its units are located."

Udugov said heavy fighting is still taking place, despite the Russian announcement of the start of its troop withdrawal from the North of the republic.

Udugov said Russian artillery is pounding Chechen positions near the Southern villages of Vedeno, Shali, Nozhay-Yurt and Uraus-Martan. He also said Russian aircraft are continuing attacks on the two other southern villages, Goyskoye and Bamut.

Meanwhile, interfax news agency quoted the Russian military command in Chechnya as saying 26 Russian soldiers were killed and 51 others wounded when their convoy was ambushed by Chechen fighters. Our Moscow correspondent quotes the Defense Ministry in Moscow as saying the ambush occurred overnight in the Southern Shatoi district.