Russia bombs Grozny suburb southern Chechnya

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The Independent Online

Grozny, Russia (AP) - Russian jets bombed the northeastern suburbs of Grozny early Monday and federal artillery kept up a heavy barrage against suspected militant outposts in the south of Chechnya.

Grozny, Russia (AP) - Russian jets bombed the northeastern suburbs of Grozny early Monday and federal artillery kept up a heavy barrage against suspected militant outposts in the south of Chechnya.

The Russian military claimed to have destroyed an anti-aircraft gun and two vehicles full of militants in the strikes, the ITAR-Tass news agency said Monday. There was no immediate word on casualties from Chechen officials.

The Chechen government claimed at least 39 people were killed and dozens more injured in earlier air and artillery raids by Russian forces Sunday. The casuality figures could not be confirmed independently.

Saying it was only targeting militants, Russia acknowledged hitting targets in the south and west of the breakaway republic.

Chechen government leaders have called repeatedly for peace talks, demanding they be held on neutral territory with international mediation.

But a militant Islamic leader who is independent from the Chechen government, Shamil Basayev, said negotiations weren't possible yet. He said the Chechen side would only consider negotiations if they are held in accordance with Islamic law, but didn't elaborate.

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has little or no control over Basayev and other well-armed warlords. Russia considers Basayev a terrorist, and is unlikely to hold negotiations as long as he is still fighting.

Russia sent troops into Chechnya at the end of September, ostensibly to liquidate Basayev and other militants who invaded neighboring Dagestan this summer and were blamed for a series of apartment explosions in Russia that killed some 300 people.

But with Russian troops occupying Chechnya's northern third and moving gradually toward Grozny from the north, east and west, the offensive increasingly appears aimed at restoring Russian control over Chechnya.

In other developments, ITAR-Tass reported Chechen fighters met with the Russians to hand over the black box from a jet they shot down, as well as the body of a soldier they said was the plane's pilot.

Federal troops gave them the bodies of two Chechen fighters in return, according to the report, which could not be confirmed.

The Chechens claimed to have shot down an Il-20 Russian reconnaissance plane Sunday and two warplanes on Saturday. The Russian air force denied losing any planes in recent days.

Ingushetia's president, Ruslan Aushev, said that some 169,700 Chechen refugees had fled the conflict to Ingushetia, located on Chechnya's western border. He said his republic was "suffocating under such a tide of refugees," the Interfax news agency reported.

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