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Bad Weather Halts Russian Air Attacks on Shatoi

Grozny, July 22 (RFE/RL) -- The press centre of the Russian military command in Chechnya says bad weather halted a new round of air attacks against Chechen separatist positions in Southeastern Chechnya today.

The press centre said air strikes were first suspended by the adverse weather yesterday near the village of Shatoi, some 50 kms south of the capital Grozny. the centre said Russian ground troops are carrying out reconnaissance and regrouping operations today.

Russian troops launched a massive assault on Shatoi Saturday. Russian command spokesman Igor Melnikov, said Russian troops are now preparing for what he says will be a "decisive offensive."

Interfax quotes Melnikov as saying two Russian servicemen were killed and seven others wounded in military operations near Shatoi. Melnikov also said Russian troops have killed at least 60 Chechen separatist fighters. Chechens claim their fighters have also inflicted heavy casualties. The reports could not be independently confirmed.

Interfax also quotes the Russian interior troops' press office as saying two Russian soldiers were killed this past week-end by mines laid near the village of Stari Atchkoi, in Western Chechnya. The Russian military press centre said this morning that Russian positions came under fire 10 times in the breakaway republic in the last 24 hours. Three attacks were reported in Grozny. Two Russian servicement were injured.

Meanwhile the flow of refugees from Chechnya into the neighboring Russian Caucasian republic of Daghestan is reported to have increased following the upsurge of fighting in Chechnya.

Itar-Tass quotes an unnamed spokesman at the Daghestan Nationalities Ministry today as saying that at least 70 Chechen refugees arrive daily in Daghestan.

The spokesman said there are no exact figures on the refugee flow because many of them live unregistered at their relatives in Daghestan, which has a big Chechen population.

Figures recently released by the International Red Cross showed that tens of thousands of Chechens have fled the war-torn breakaway republic since the beginning of the conflict in December 1994.

Chechen refugees are also arriving to the mountain areas of Daghestan near the border with Southeastern Chechnya. Kamalutdin Shakhbanov, deputy head of Daghestan's Botlikh district told Tass over 600 Chechens had arrived in the area over the past week. He said the total number of refugees in the district is close to 3,000.