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DATE=8/22/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA-DAGESTAN UPDATE (L ONLY) NUMBER=2-253010 BYLINE=PETER HEINLEIN DATELINE=MOSCOW INTERNET=YES CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Russia's Prime minister has summoned security chiefs for an urgent meeting as the conflict in the southern republic of Dagestan rages for a third week. VOA's Correspondent Peter Heinlein in Moscow reports both government troops and Muslim rebels are claiming gains in the latest fighting. TEXT: Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called a rare Sunday meeting his defense and interior ministers, the army chief of staff and the head of the domestic intelligence service. News agencies say the discussions focused on specific military operations aimed at wiping out Muslim insurgents who control several villages in the mountains of Dagestan, along the border with breakaway Chechnya. ///opt/// Just days after he was named prime minister this month, Mr. Putin predicted the rebels would be wiped out within two weeks. With that deadline looming, however, the rebels appear to be well-entrenched, and military leaders admit the conflict is likely to drag on for months. ///end opt/// As the security chiefs met, Russian jets and artillery pounded the rebel held region, while Ground forces mounted a ferocious offensive Sunday against a rebel base at the strategic mountain village of Tando. The two sides made widely conflicting claims about the outcome of the battle. Russian sources say they seized part of Tando during the day. The insurgents, however, posted a note on the internet saying rebel fighters had counter attacked and smashed a Russian paratroop unit. ///opt/// Government forces also claimed to have taken control of the Kharami Pass on the main road linking Chechnya and Dagestan. But a rebel spokesman called the government claim "meaningless", saying his fighters use other routes through the mountains, and had not been in control of the Kharami Pass. ///end opt./// There were also sharply differing accounts of casualties, with each side claiming to have inflicted heavy losses on the other. But there was no independent confirmation. Western journalists have been strongly discouraged from visiting the region because of the danger of kidnappings. In the past, however, both the rebels and the government have been known to exaggerate enemy casualty figures, while minimizing their own.///rest opt/// Commanders on the ground say at this point, their main goal is to keep the insurgents bottled up in a few mountain villages while Moscow builds up its troops and equipment in the area for an expected major offensive. The fighting in Dagestan is the worst in Russia since the separatist war in Chechnya in the mid-nineties. That war ended when government troops withdrew in defeat from the breakaway Muslim region after 21 months of fighting. Since then, Chechnya has ruled itself, although Moscow says it is still part of Russia. (signed) NEB/PT 22-Aug-1999 17:30 PM LOC (22-Aug-1999 2130 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .





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