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Twenty Russian Troops Killed

March 3, 2000

DUBA-YURT, Russia (AP) _ Chechen rebels ambushed a column of Russian Interior Ministry troops in Grozny, killing 20 soldiers and wounding 29 others, the military command said today.

The ambush Thursday was one of the largest rebel actions in the Chechen capital since Russian forces claimed to have taken full control of the city on Feb. 6, after months of shelling and street fighting. The attack indicated that the rebels remain a potent force, able to stage major attacks despite Russian claims that they are in disarray.

The troops were part of a Moscow-based riot police unit sent to Grozny after the Russian army took control of the city, the North Caucasus military command said, according to the Interfax news agency.

Chechen rebels attacked the policemen with machine guns and grenades as they were on their way to replace troops at a guard post in Grozny’s Staropromyslovsky district, the military command’s press center said.

Reinforcements were dispatched to the site of the ambush, and a special operation to clear the district of rebels was under way today, the military command said, according to Interfax.

Meanwhile, Russian troops continued to battle rebels in Chechnya’s southern mountains, in a campaign that a top Russian commander said would continue until the militants are wiped out.

Russian warplanes and helicopters flew more than 90 combat missions over the past 24 hours in the Argun gorge region, where the rebels retreated to this week after leaving their last major stronghold, the town of Shatoi.

Although the Russians had control of Shatoi, Russia’s deputy chief of staff for the military in Chechnya said it was too early to start withdrawing troops on a large scale.

``Troops will remain here until the last bandit is destroyed,″ Maj. Gen. Vadim Timchenko said. ``I think we will have work to do here until summer.″

Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said Thursday that 1,500 to 3,000 rebels remained in Chechnya, most of them entrenched in the mountains south of the capital.

Russia sent ground forces into Chechnya in late September after Chechnya-based Muslim fighters invaded the neighboring republic of Dagestan. Russian authorities also blamed the rebels for a series of apartment building bombings in Russia that killed about 300 people.