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Russia: Chechen Commanders Say Most Fighters Evacuated

Grozny, 1 February 2000 (RFE/RL) - Chechen commanders say most separatist fighters in Grozny safely evacuated from the capital overnight. But Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky denies the claim, saying that heavy fighting is continuing in the city center. Russian army spokesman Colonel Aleksandr Veklich says two groups of Chechen fighters tried to break out of Grozny last night. The Russian spokesman and Chechen officials both say that one group sustained heavy casualties after blundering into a minefield. The Kremlin says other Chechen fighters were met by Russian troops at the towns of Alkhan-Kala and Yermolovka a few kilometers from the capital.

An RFE/RL correspondent in the region reports that Russian troops now control Minutka Square in Grozny. The strategic crossroads gives the main concentration of Russian forces access to the city center. But our correspondent says Chechen fighters still occupy much of the city's southern Oktyabrsky district.

The Chechen presidency also has confirmed that Grozny's mayor, Lecha Dudayev, was killed within the last 24 hours. Dudayev, the nephew of former separatist President Dzhokhar Dudayev, commanded a group of about 100 separatist fighters in Grozny.