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DATE=8/13/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA / DAGESTAN (L-ALT) NUMBER=2-252764 BYLINE=PETER HEINLEIN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Acting Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says Russia has launched a massive operation to retake territory seized by Islamic rebels in the mountainous northern Caucasus republic of Dagestan. V-O-A Moscow correspondent Peter Heinlein reports the operation will also include sorties into the breakaway Chechnya region. TEXT: On a trip to the Siberian city of Tomsk, acting Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced that a large- scale offensive has begun against rebels holding several villages in mountains of Dagestan. Mr. Putin says Russian troops will strike at the insurgents wherever they are -- especially inside Chechnya, which borders Dagestan. /// PUTIN ACT - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER /// He says, "We will be carrying out strikes against Chechnya, against guerrilla bases, and places where bandits gather. Chechnya is Russian territory." He adds, "Wherever bandits appear, they will be eliminated -- No matter whether in Chechnya or not." Chechen fighters inflicted an embarrassing defeat on Russian troops in the mid-1990's, resulting in virtual independence for Chechnya. The government of the breakaway region has maintained neutrality in the current fighting, but Russian officials say rebels in Dagestan are operating out of bases in Chechnya and crossing the border freely. In a telephone interview, Chechen government spokesman Mayarbek Vachagayev accused Russia of trying to drag the breakaway region into the fighting. /// VACHAGAYEV ACT - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER /// He says, "From the very beginning it was obvious that Russia was interested in linking this (situation in Dagestan) to Chechnya." Mr. Vachagayev says Chechen officials have been saying to anyone who would listen for months that Chechnya was not involved in destabilizing Dagestan. He adds, "if we had wanted to start an uprising in Dagestan, the fighting would be in the capital, Makhachkala, and not in the remote mountains along the border. When asked about the fact that renegade Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev is commanding the rebels in Dagestan, Mr. Vachagayev said his government objects, but can do little about Mr. Basayev's private activities outside the region's borders. In day seven of the fighting, Russia was reported sending reinforcements to bolster the mostly irregular Dagestani volunteers battling the rebels on the ground. Five large military transport planes arrived in Makhachkala Thursday, and four more were due Friday. Russian interior ministry officials say at least 200 rebels were killed in the first six days of fighting. Russia's casualties were put at about 11 dead and 200 injured, including three Interior Ministry generals who were hurt when their helicopter was shot down Thursday. Rebel sources dispute those government figures. They say only five insurgent fighters were killed as of Thursday, and that government losses were far higher. Those numbers could not be verified, but both sides in the past have exaggerated enemy casualty figures, while minimizing their own. (Signed) NEB/PFH/JWH/WTW 13-Aug-1999 08:10 AM EDT (13-Aug-1999 1210 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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