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Russia: Military To Focus On Southern Chechen Mountains

Grozny, 2 February 2000 (RFE/RL) - Heavy fighting is reported in central Grozny today as Russian troops advance on the Chechen capital from the southeast. Chechen fighters say most of their forces fled the city yesterday and are heading south to regroup in rebel mountain strongholds. But Russian officials dismissed reports that 2,000 Chechen fighters had evaded Russian troops encircling Grozny. Lt.-Colonel Aleksandr Sapronov said the fighting is now focused on the southern mountains. He said Russian forces have seized strategic heights in the south, at the mouth of the Argun Gorge and in the Itum-Kalinsky district close to the Georgian border.

Meanwhile, civilians were reported fleeing as Russian forces shelled the village of Alkhan-Kala, just west of Grozny. Rebel commanders reportedly met in the village last night to plot strategy. It is unclear whether they are still there.

In other news, Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev denied reports he lost a leg when his car was blown up by a mine as he escaped Grozny. He said he only suffered a shrapnel wound on his leg.