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DATE=10/8/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA / CHECHNYA (L) NUMBER=2-254809 BYLINE=PETER HEINLEIN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Russian troops and Chechen rebels are battling for control of a strategic river 25 kilometers north of the regional capital, Grozny. V-O-A Moscow correspondent Peter Heinlein reports Chechnya's president is warning of a full-scale war. TEXT: Chechen military sources say they inflicted heavy losses on Russian troops Friday along the north bank of the Terek River. The fighting is described as the heaviest since Russian land forces entered the breakaway region last month. The report could not immediately be verified, but the French news agency quotes a Russian defense source as saying federal troops are encountering strong resistance in the Terek river region, and have suffered casualties. In separate action, Russia's air force reports carrying out at least 10 air strikes. A government spokesman says the targets were rebel bases, supply dumps and transport routes. But local correspondents say a village southwest of Grozny was hit, causing heavy loss of life among residents. A Russian defense ministry spokesman calls the reports "disinformation." The government also denied reports that Russian tanks attacked a busload of civilians earlier this week, killing 40. Gruesome pictures of the carnage were broadcast in the West, but there was an almost total news blackout of the incident in Russian media, and officials characterized the reports as part of a campaign aimed at discrediting federal forces. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov was quoted Friday as saying the breakaway region is prepared for an all-out war. In remarks shown on Chechnya's state-run television, the former military commander said, "the situation from a military point of view is far better than it was in 1994." Russian troops invaded Chechnya in late 1994 to crush a rebellion, but withdrew in defeat 21 months later, leaving the region to govern itself. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has previously vowed to avoid any repeat of that previous disastrous war. But Friday he defended the latest incursion into Chechnya, and refused to rule out the possibility that troops might try to recapture Grozny. /// PUTIN ACT IN RUSSIAN, ESTABLISH AND FADE /// He says, "Chechnya is a territory of the Russian Federation. Armed forces have a right to take positions wherever they want." Russian troops currently occupy about one-third of Chechnya, mostly low-lying land north of the Terek River, where they are establishing a buffer zone against rebel incursions. (Signed) NEB/PFH/GE/WTW 08-Oct-1999 12:17 PM EDT (08-Oct-1999 1617 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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