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Chechnya: Separatists Appear to Control Grozny, Other Towns

Grozny, August 6 (RFE/RL) -- Chechen separatists appear to control the Chechen capital, Grozny, and claim to control the republic's second and third largest towns, Argun and Gudermes, after a lightning military offensive.

The RFE/RL correspondent in Grozny says quiet has descended over the city following the worst fighting there in five months. Separatists appear to be in control of the city and are freely walking around the main streets. Russian forces have retreated to their guard posts.

Separatist spokesman Movladi Udugov told Itar-tass up to 3,000 of his men entered Grozny at dawn. He said his men shot down two Russian helicopters, destroyed two tanks and several armored personnel carriers. Udugov said 13 Russian soldiers were killed and 45 wounded, in addition to unspecified civilian casualties. There was no confirmation.

Udugov also said separatist fighters seized control of the towns of Argun and Gudermes after several hours of fighting with Russian forces.

Part of Gudermes' police force switched over to the separatist side during the fighting, he said. Separatists were now holding negotiations with the Russians, to allow their forces to withdraw, he said. qInterfax quoted the secretary of Russia's Chechnya commission, Sergei Stepashin, as saying that after today's attacks no more talks could be held with separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev and chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov. Stepashin said the two were "international terrorists" who would be prosecuted according to the law.