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Russia: Operation Launched Against Fleeing Chechen Rebels

Moscow, 3 February 2000 (RFE/RL) - Russian forces have launched a "special operation" against Chechen forces reportedly trapped in a village after fleeing the capital Grozny. Russian NTV showed footage of federal infantry advancing into Alkan-Kala under heavy artillery cover. Chechen fighters headed for the village after retreating from Grozny two days ago. The rebels say more than 3,000 separatist fighters have left Grozny in recent days but the Russians deny this. Neither claim could be independently confirmed.

A Reuters correspondent near Alkan-Kala reports huge numbers of civilians fleeing on foot and by car from the village. Residents there told AP that most Chechen fighters had left the village by today. In Grozny, Russian forces are still battling remaining Chechen fighters. The military said today that 400 rebels had surrendered in Grozny over the past 24 hours. That number could not be independently confirmed. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev called the battle for Grozny a "decisive turning point" and said his forces will now focus on rebel forces in the south.

Chechen commander Khizir Khachukayev said the rebels would regroup in the mountains and warned the Russians would "face more trouble" there than they had in Grozny.