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New Air Attacks In Chechnya, In Wake of Dudayev's Reported Death

Moscow, April 25 (RFE/RL) - Russian helicopter gunships attacked separatist positions in Chechnya today, while Chechen separatists are mourning the death of their leader Dzhokhar Dudayev. The Chechen leader was reportedly killed Sunday night in a rocket attack in the breakaway republic.

Interfax news agency quoted police in the Southern Chechen town of Shali as saying that Russian helicopter gunships today carried out two airstrikes on the town, killing and wounding civilians. Shali authorities said thay had been trying to evacuate women and children from Shali.They said the bombing had caused considerable destruction. But they gave no casualties figures.

And Interfax reported that several people were killed and others were wounded when Russian ground forces opened fire on a civilian convoy trying to flee Shali.

The commander of Russian forces in Chechnya, Lt.Gen Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, said the attacks were in response to Chechen fighters firing yesterday on a Russian helicopter that flew over Shali. Tikhomirov said the Russian command believes up to 300 separatist fighters are holed up in Shali, which has been under Russian siege for the past six days.

Meanwhile a senior Chechen rebel commander, Akhmed Zakayev, said Dudayev was buried yesterday at a secret location in southern Chechnya. It is not clear how the reported killing of Dudayev and his replacement by his vice president, Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, a hardline separatist, could affect peace efforts in Chechnya.