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Russia: Heavy Fighting Reported In Western Dagestan

Makhachkala, Russia; 6 September 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russian troops reportedly fired tank and artillery rounds at villages in western Dagestan today in a bid to dislodge rebels who crossed the border from Chechnya yesterday in the second invasion of Dagestan in a month. Police trapped in their station by rebels in Novolakskoye were able to escape after reinforcements arrived in the town. Interfax reports at least 14 members of government security forces were killed and 17 wounded. There is no independent confirmation of the casualty figures. Russian troops and police were forced to retreat from the town. No figures were given for rebel casualties. The rebels, estimated by the Russian military at about 2,000, control several towns and villages near the border with Chechnya. The Russian Interior Ministry said today the rebels are trying to capture the city of Khasavyurt and declare it the capital of an Islamic state. Meanwhile, reports say the death toll from Saturday's bombing of an apartment in Buinaksk has risen to 52. The building was home to families of Russian soldiers serving in Dagestan. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, but Russia's First Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Kolesnikov said yesterday the rebels were to blame.