TITLE=RUSSIA / DAGESTAN (L)
INTRO: Russian forces say they have regained control
of three villages in the southern Dagestan region that
had been occupied by Muslim insurgents for more than
two-weeks. Correspondent Peter Heinlein reports
federal troops are said to be making progress against
rebels still holed up in other settlements in the
sparsely populated Dagestani mountains.
TEXT: Russian defense ministry officials (Tuesday)
said rebels have been cleared from several mountain
hamlets that had been the focus of repeated air
strikes and ground assaults in recent days.
/// OPT /// The villages are located near a main road
in the Botlikh district that crosses the border
between Dagestan and breakaway Chechnya. /// END OPT
But there were conflicting reports about what happened
to the Chechen-led insurgent force that seized the
villages early this month. In a message posted Monday
on the Internet, the rebels claim to have escaped.
Federal forces call that claim -- disinformation.
They say most of the separatists were killed, while
others may still be hiding in the mountains.
A rebel escape could be a further blow to government
forces whose reputation was badly tarnished by their
humiliating defeat at the hands of Chechen rebels in
/// OPT /// A Dagestani man pressed into service to
fight alongside federal troops told a V-O-A reporter
the rebels villages captured by government forces
Monday and Tuesday had been empty. The man, who asked
not to be identified, said the rebels had only
pretended to occupy the settlements to attract Russian
bombs. He said air strikes had reduced the villages
to piles of rubble. /// END OPT ///
Meanwhile, Russian fighter jets and artillery have
switched their focus to other nearby villages thought
to be used as rebel hideouts. A Dagestani journalist
who visited the Botlikh district (Tuesday) reported
seeing thick plumes of smoke rising from villages
targeted by Russian air strikes.
There are no reliable casualty figures for the
fighting. Each side this week reported losing between
40 and 50 men in the two-week conflict, and estimated
enemy casualties at many times higher. But there has
been no independent confirmation of the number killed
and wounded, and western journalists have been advised
to stay away from Dagestan because of the danger of
24-Aug-1999 09:18 AM LOC (24-Aug-1999 1318 UTC)
Source: Voice of America
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