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Chechens Claim They Have Seized Bamut

Grozny, July 23 (RFE/RL) -- Conflicting reports are coming from Chechnya, with separatists claiming they have recaptured the strategic town of Bamut, east of the Chechen capital Grozny, and the Russian command denying any change.

Interfax quotes separatist spokesman Movladi Udugov, who said separatist forces retook Bamut this morning. Udugov said Russian troops have now withdrawn from their positions in and around the town.

But the Russian command in Chechnya denies the claim and says Russian forces remain in control of Bamut. Russian troops captured Bamut, a major separatist stronghold, this May.

Meanwhile,the Russian command said today that it is continuing military operations against separatist fighters in southern Chechnya.

Russian officials say they have been hitting separatist positions around Shatoi with tank and artillery fire. The command says bad weather has prevented the use of warplanes. Three Russian soldiers were reported killed in Chechnya over the past 24 hours.