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Chechnya: Russia Strikes Rebel Bases

Magas, Moscow; 28 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A strike on rebel bases in Chechnya has reportedly left at least 10 Russian servicemen dead and 21 wounded in the latest wave of security raids in the breakaway republic. AP reports that Russian jets struck suspected rebel bases near Chechnya's border with the Russian republic of Daghestan, while heavy artillery shelled rebel targets.

An official in Chechnya's pro-Moscow administration said Russian troops blockaded several villages and detained some 67 people suspected of having links to the militant forces. He also reported that Chechen troops have attacked federal positions 21 times in the past 24 hours and detonated a remote-controlled mine, destroying an army vehicle. In an offensive launched yesterday, Russian Mi-24 helicopter gunships and heavy artillery targeted suspected rebel bases in Chechnya's southern mountains, while federal forces searched for rebels in foothill towns and villages, AP reported.

Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to Moscow said today that Washington has helped to cut off financial and military aid to terrorists operating in Chechnya in the wake of September's terrorist attacks against the United States. But he also expressed concern over Russian military activities in the Chechen Republic.

Ambassador Alexander Vershbow said during an interview with the Russian radio program Ekho Moskvy that since 11 September, his country has tried to do more worldwide to stop terrorism. Vershbow said the U.S. government was successful in cutting off aid to foreign terrorists like Khattab, a Jordanian-born commander among the Chechen separatists.

Vershbow said that despite cooperating with Russia in the fight against international terrorism, the U.S. government remains concerned about Russia's military campaign in Chechnya, which has often been the subject of complaints by human rights organizations and the U.S.

The Russian government has often said Chechen separatists received aid from Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan's Taliban movement.

The war in Chechnya has ravaged the tiny, mountainous republic and prompted over 150,000 Chechens to flee to neighboring Ingushetia, draining its scarce resources.

The European Commission announced earlier in December that it would provide another 7.5 million euros ($6.5 million) for food and medical assistance for Chechnya's population. The decision will bring the European Union's assistance to the region to almost 65 million euros ($56.6 million) since September 1999, making it the largest donor for Chechnya.