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Continued Chechen Battles Predicted

March 2, 2000

GUDERMES, Russia (AP) _ A Russian commander said Thursday that fighting in Chechnya will persist for months as Russia mops up rebels who _ according to one television report _ launched an attack in the occupied capital of Grozny.

There was no official confirmation of a report by the NTV channel that 12 Russian soldiers were killed and 30 wounded in an attack Thursday in the Grozny’s Staropromyslovsky district.

It would be one of the largest rebel actions in Grozny since the city fell to Russian forces Feb. 6. Some rebel holdouts were believed to remain in the city.

Russia’s seizure of the sof Shatoi in the strategic Argun Gorge this week raised hopes among weary troops that the 5-month-old ground war in Chechnya was coming to a close.

But rebels who escaped the assault on Shatoi have tried to move across the republic’s southern mountains to take up positions in another gorge, battling Russian troops fiercely along the way.

As fighting raged near the village of Ulus-Kert, Maj. Gen. Vadim Timchenko, deputy chief of staff for the military in Chechnya, said the Russian offensive would continue until the rebels are wiped out.

``Troops will remain here until the last bandit is destroyed,″ he was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. ``I think we will have work to do here until summer.″

Some Russian politicians have acknowledged that a long-term partisan war was in store for Russia.

``There will be an inevitable activation of guerrilla actions, which will include not just single gunshots, but also diversionary attacks, road ambushes, seizing of towns,″ liberal legislator Alexei Arbatov said Thursday.

But Timchenko denied that prediction.

``The bandits don’t have the support for that _ the mass support of the local population,″ he said.

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov renewed his call for negotiations with Russian leaders. Acting President Vladimir Putin has consistently refused, saying Russia will not talk with rebels and their supporters.

Shatoi lies in the Argun Gorge, one of the two main routes through the rugged mountains of Chechnya’s south. The rebels appear to be aiming to reach the Vedeno Gorge, about 15 miles to the east.

The Russian military claimed about 400 rebels had been killed over the past three days around Ulus-Kert, which lies between the gorges. The claim could not be independently verified; both Russia and the rebels are believed to routinely exaggerate the others’ losses.

Russian warplanes and helicopters also attacked rebel positions near Kharsenoi, a village west of the Argun Gorge.

Although Russia estimates that the number of rebels remaining in the mountains may be as low as 1,000, the rebels are skilled guerrillas whose effectiveness is highest in the mountains’ unforgiving terrain.

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

The Foreign Ministry announced Thursday that Mary Robinson, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, had been invited to Moscow and the North Caucasus in April. The ministry had previously criticized Robinson for what it called her biased criticism of Chechen campaign.

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