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Russia: Army Using Artillery On Rebel Stronghold

Moscow/Gudermes, Russia; 7 January (RFE/RL) - Russia says its artillery bombing in Chechnya today is focusing on the southern town of Vedeno in an attempt to break a main rebel stronghold in the mountains. A commander (unnamed) of the Russian Interior Ministry troops told the French news agency AFP that Russian troops gained ground today in the Chechen capital Grozny, where there is house-to-house fighting. Efforts to take Grozny appeared to be stalled yesterday by bad weather and tough rebel resistance. There was no immediate rebel response to Russia's claim that it moved deeper into the city. Meanwhile, the Russian military claims that rebels in the breakaway republic are preparing for a lengthy war by using bases in the neighboring nations of Georgia and Azerbaijan.

A report by Russian army intelligence says elite Chechen fighters are concentrated in Georgia, where they are collecting financial aid through humanitarian organizations and getting arms and ammunition. The Russian news agency ITAR-TASS quotes an Azerbaijan official (Araz Kurbanov of the Ministry of National Security) as denying the report, saying it is a provocation that could be aimed at carrying combat activities into Azerbaijan.

Georgia has consistently denied Russian accusations that it is aiding Chechen rebels.