Chechen Rebels Continue Attacks
MOSCOW (AP) _ Chechen rebels peppered Russian convoys and checkpoints with gunfire while Russian warplanes and artillery struck at militants hiding in Chechnya’s forests and mountains, officials said today.
Russian forces came under fire at least 19 times in the last 24 hours, but no soldiers were hit, the military said.
However, one Russian soldier was killed Tuesday when a mortar exploded as his unit was shelling a forest near Gudermes, where patrols had detected a rebel band, officials said.
Gudermes is in northern Chechnya, which Russian forces occupied months ago. The rebels have been pressing attacks there, signaling their determination to carry on the war despite official claims that they have been all but defeated.
Gen. Gennady Troshev, commander of Russian forces in the area, said Tuesday that ``the army has virtually fulfilled its task″ and claimed the Russian operation had left only 1,500 militants still able to fight from their refuges in the southern mountains.
But the rebels have kept up hit-and-run attacks by small groups armed with rifles and grenade launchers, sapping Russian troop morale and inflicting a steady stream of casualties.
A police detachment stationed in the capital of Grozny, captured more than four months ago, came under fire overnight from rebels less than 200 yards away, officials said today.
Rebels also fired at a military headquarters in the central town of Urus-Martan and at a police building in Itum-Kale in the southern mountains, officials said.
Meanwhile, Russian attack planes and helicopter gunships flew more than 43 missions in the past 24 hours, the military said.
Russian troops were driven from Chechnya in a 1994-96 war, but returned in September after Chechnya-based militants seized several villages in the neighboring Russian republic of Dagestan, and after about 300 people died in apartment bombings the government blames on Chechens.