DATE=8/23/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=DAGESTAN WRAP (L-ONLY) NUMBER=2-253055 BYLINE=PETER HEINLEIN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Russian troops say they have captured a strategic mountain village held for two weeks by Muslim insurgents in the southern region of Dagestan. VOA's Peter Heinlein in Moscow reports the capture came hours after the rebels announced they had withdrawn from the region. TEXT: Russia's defense ministry says its forces late Monday wrested control ofthe Dagestani village of Tando from Islamic separatists who seized it early this month. The capture of Tando came after days of furious air and ground attacks against suspected rebel targets in the region. But the government report was called into question by a rebel statement hours earlier announcing that all separatist fighters had withdrawn from Tando Sunday night. The statement, posted on the internet, said the rebel commander, renegade Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, had ordered what was called a "redeployment" of forces to other positions. The insurgents' statement seemed to catch Russia's military establishment by surprise. At first, government spokesman described the withdrawal claim as "lies and disinformation", citing field reports saying the rebels were trapped and all exits leading out of Tando were sealed. Russia's main evening television news bulletins made no mention of the withdrawal claim. But a short time later, the defense ministry issued a statement saying government troops had taken control of Tando. The statement did not explain what had happened to the rebels. There was no independent confirmation of any of the reports from Dagestan. Western journalists have been discouraged from going to the region because of the threat of kidnapping. But if the conflict in the mountains of Dagestan is over, it could mark a triumph for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. On August 10th, days after he was appointed, Mr. Putin predicted the insurgents would be driven out of Dagestan in two weeks. That deadline expires Tuesday. (signed) NEB/PFH/PT 23-Aug-1999 18:41 PM LOC (23-Aug-1999 2241 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .
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