Chechen leaders fear Russian attack

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The Independent Online
A STATE of emergency comes into force today in Chechnya, where the authorities fear Russian reprisals for the fighting that has erupted across the mountains in Dagestan.

Chechnya's moderate President, Aslan Maskhadov, blamed the "party of war" in Moscow for raising tension across the Caucasus region. He said he had ordered a mobilisation of veterans of the 1994-1996 war with Russia, and put border guards on alert.

Moscow is angry that the separatist leadership in Grozny cannot, or will not, control a group of fundamentalist Islamic warlords, who infiltrated into Dagestan from Chechnya two weeks ago. Russia's Prime Minister designate, Vladimir Putin, has vowed to clear the rebels out of Dagestan, and warned that Chechnya could be hit, too.

Over the weekend, Russian aircraft bombed rebel bases in the Botlikh district of western Dagestan. The Russian authorities said Dagestani volunteers were helping federal forces to repulse the militants.

The rebels are led by Shamil Basayev, one-time prime minister in Chechnya, and a fighter believed to be of Jordanian origin, called Khattab. Russia's Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, has warned Muslim countries against helping the rebels, who have declared a holy war for Dagestan's independence.

The rebels claim to have killed 130 Russians and shot down nine helicopters and one aircraft. The Russian Interior Ministry said its forces had killed 200 rebels, with only 14 casualties of its own. The Interfax news agency claimed that 60 rebels had been buried alive when Russiansbrought down an avalanche on their mountain hideaway.