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DATE=8/30/1999 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=RUSSIAN / DAGESTAN NUMBER=5-44161 BYLINE=PETER HEINLEIN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Russian forces last week declared victory over Muslim insurgents who captured several villages in the remote mountains of the southern Dagestan region. But that declaration may have been premature. Just a few days later, Russian helicopter gunships and artillery are back in action against the insurgents at another village not far from the scene of the earlier fighting. Moscow Correspondent Peter Heinlein examines the roots of the Dagestani uprising. TEXT: President Boris Yeltsin paid solemn tribute (Monday) to Russian troops killed battling Islamic rebels in the mountainous Botlikh district of Dagestan. He told relatives of the dead soldiers there would be no letup in the campaign to crush the insurgency. ///YELTSIN ACT IN RUSSIAN, THEN FADE TO.../// He says -- Dagestan will be cleansed. Dagestan will be free, and the time will come when you will smile again. As Mr. Yeltsin spoke, Russian helicopters and artillery had switched their focus to the village of Karamakhi, about 80-kilometers from Botlikh, where many of the insurgents are believed to have fled. Dagestani journalist Nabi Abdullaev says federal forces are targeting members of the militant Wahhabi sect that imposed Islamic Sharia law in the Karamakhi region last year. /// ABDULLAEV ACT /// Saturday, Russian helicopters dropped leaflets calling for the peaceful population to leave Karamakhi by midnight. By that time, Karamakhi was surrounded and blocked by internal forces of the Russian ministry of defense and Dagestani interior. After midday Sunday, Russian helicopters started to launch rockets at the Wahhabi positions around the village. /// END ACT /// Experts say the Wahhabi sect has experienced sharp growth in Dagestan, which is among the poorest regions in Russia. They estimate 80-thousand Dagestanis, or four-percent of the total population, are members of the puritanical Islamic sect. Russian analysts say the reason the Dagestani uprising has failed to engender widespread support, while the one in Chechnya succeeded, is that the ethnic makeups of the neighboring regions are fundamentally different. While both populations are overwhelmingly Muslim, Chechnya is a homogeneous republic. Dagestan is a mix of more than 30-different ethnic communities that often disagree among themselves. But reporter Abdullaev says Russian and Dagestani government forces, flushed with their success in Botlikh district, may be making a strategic mistake by changing their focus from fighting separatism to battling Islamic fundamentalism. /// ABDULLAEV ACT /// There was a kind of euphoria after the victory in the Botlikh region, and having gained public support for their action, the Dagestani government is trying to solve quickly another problem that was pending for years. And I think this was a mistake. /// END ACT /// Federal forces seem determined to rout the Islamic fighters at Karamakhi, just as they did in Botlikh last week. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin may have best articulated the rationale for the campaign during a visit last week to the troops in Dagestan. Mr. Putin, who played an important role as senior intelligence officer during the failed Chechnya campaign, was shown on television addressing soldiers gathered around him in a tent. He said -- we cannot show weakness for even one second. If we do, those who were killed will have died in vain. (SIGNED) NEB/PFH/GE/RAE 30-Aug-1999 13:26 PM LOC (30-Aug-1999 1726 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .





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