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Russia: Campaign Against Militants Moves Deeper Into Chechen Republic

Grozny, 4 October 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russian forces are today reported pushing deeper into Chechen territory in their campaign against Islamic extremists. A Reuter correspondent reports that artillery fire can be heard in the Chechen capital Grozny. He says the firing is coming from the Shelkovskaya district, about 40 kilometers northeast of the city, along the Terek river, which is frequently mentioned as forming a natural frontier for Moscow's plans to create a security zone in Chechnya. Tens of thousands of Chechen refugees are streaming into Dagestan and Ingushetia, creating the potential for a serious humanitarian situation.

The Russian commander in neighboring Dagestan, General Gennady Troshev, said his forces have now completed a security zone around Chechnya, designed to prevent infiltration by Islamic militants.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Chechen refugees are streaming into Dagestan and Ingushetia. The chairman of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Knut Vollebaek, said in Moscow that a serious humanitarian situation appears to be developing. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said a state panel will be formed to resettle the Chechen refugees in land now under Russian control.

Putin told a news conference today there is "every reason" to believe Islamic extremist leaders are behind terrorist blasts which have killed almost 300 people in Russia in the last month. Putin named Chechen Islamic rebel leader Shamil Basayev, and another Islamist leader, Khattab, as suspects.

He said the two are on Interpol's wanted list. He said both must be arrested and brought to trial to determine their guilt. Basayev and Khattab led the incursions by Islamic militants based in Chechnya into Dagestan in August and last month.

Further, Putin again called into question the legitimacy of the President of the breakaway Chechen republic, Aslan Maskhadov.