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Russia: Forces Move Into Chechnya

Moscow, 1 October 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russia says combat operations are underway again in Chechnya, the breakaway north Caucasus republic which battled Moscow for its independence in a war that ended three years ago. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said yesterday that Russian troops were crossing in and out of Chechnya on a regular basis to carry out military objectives. But Putin again stopped short of saying whether Russia plans to launch a full land invasion against Chechen-based Islamic rebels who Moscow blames for recent invasions of Dagestan and a series of explosions in Russia that have left some 300 people dead. Chechen leaders warned Moscow against a new ground invasion, saying such a step would unleash heavy fighting and that Chechen fighters would carry the battle deep into Russian territory. Russian air attacks against Chechen targets continued for the eighth consecutive day yesterday, but there were no reports of ground clashes with Chechen fighters.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov deflected calls for restraint from the United States and west European countries, saying the Chechen situation is Russia's internal issue.

The UN refugee agency said it was sending an aid convoy for an estimated 70,000 Chechen refugees who have fled to neighboring Ingushetia. The move follows an official request from Moscow for UN aid for the displaced.