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Russia may pull 20,000 Interior Ministry troops out of Chechnya

RIA Novosti

30/03/2009 11:37 MOSCOW, March 30 (RIA Novosti) - Around 20,000 troops from Russia's Interior Ministry forces will be withdrawn from Chechnya if the antiterrorism operation ends in the North Caucasus republic, the ministry said on Monday.

Russia has been conducting its antiterrorism campaign in Chechnya since September 1999. The operation includes the deployment of special police units, frequent police sweeps, and heightened security at key facilities.

"If a political decision on ending the antiterrorism operation regime in Chechnya is taken, practically all Interior Forces units kept there on rotation will be withdrawn from the republic," ministry spokesman Col. Vasily Panchenkov said, adding that the number of troops slated for withdrawal totaled around 20,000 personnel.

President Dmitry Medvedev ordered last Friday the Federal Security Service (FSB) chief, Alexander Bortnikov, to consider formally ending the operation in Chechnya.

Russia's National Anti-Terrorism Committee will meet to discuss the issue on March 31.

"However, the 46th brigade from the Interior Ministry and the 42nd division from the Defense Ministry, which are deployed in Chechnya on a permanent basis, will remain in the republic," Panchenkov said.

Although the active phase of the antiterrorism campaign in the North Caucasus officially ended in 2001, periodic bombings and clashes between militants and federal troops still disrupt Chechnya and nearby regions, particularly Daghestan and Ingushetia.

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