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Russia: Putin Vows Harsh Action Against Chechen Rebels

Moscow, 17 September 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is vowing to act "harshly and rapidly" against Islamic rebels from Chechnya, which Moscow blames for a wave of recent bombings. Putin told reporters today after a meeting of Russia's upper house -- the Federation Council -- that lawmakers agreed with stern measures approved by President Boris Yeltsin to tighten border controls around Chechnya. Putin declined to give details about the plan, but he said it does not include sending ground troops into the breakaway republic. Russian war planes have been bombing suspected rebel bases in Chechnya for the past few weeks after some 2,000 insurgents invaded Dagestan from the republic. The militants want to create an independent Islamic republic in the Northern Caucasus. In recent weeks, nearly 300 people have died in five explosions in Moscow and southern Russia. There have been no credible claims of responsibility for any of the attacks, but Russian officials blame Islamic separatists. Russian authorities say two men of Chechen origin have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in two of the bomb attacks in Moscow. In Belarus, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka today ordered heightened security measures in his country similar to those adopted by Russia. Yesterday, Lukashenka also ordered police and security agencies to exercise greater control over public meetings and opposition protests, which he said are organized by the opposition and what he called the "forces of disintegration."